Scientists in Conference

I was recently asked to sit on the organizing committees for a couple of scientific meetings, and, almost at the same time, stumbled across Scientists in Conference: The Congress Organizer’s Handbook, by Volker Neuhoff, in my departmental library, and rapidly came to appreciate its charms.  It is a comprehensive aide for the conference organizer with a lot of good general tips although the specifics are now rather outdated.  Some comments on the secrets of good chairmainship are also hidden inside, and the author emphasises the importance of the social aspects of conferences.  There is a lovely note in the ‘Postface’ on issues with the translation from the original German, and the joint work between the author and the Australian chemist Robert Schoenefeld on this really shines.

In addition, it also provided reference to an article published in the British Medical Journal on Christmas Eve of 1983, called ‘Dreaming during scientific papers: effects of added extrinsic material‘, by Harvey, Schullinger, Stassinopoulos and Winkle, investigating sleeping and dreaming during scientific talks.  Like the book above, this is, in many respects, of its time, but the apparent prevalence of sleeping during medical conferences in 1983 is quite impressive.

Cricket in the Jungle

The name of this blog is a quote taken from the work of John Ziman, a theoretical physicist who wrote a series of books on solid state physics that I enjoyed discovering as an undergraduate.  One of them, Electrons and Phonons, has an excellent first paragraph that neatly explains the apparent problems with understanding things like electrical conductivity in metals.

The quote from the figure is:

It is, at first sight, remarkable that any influence can travel through a solid body.  We can imagine the passage of fast projectiles such as energetic neutrons, tearing their way through the crystal lattice, or of electromagnetic waves whose transport is primarily through an imponderable, all-pervading ether.  But besides such processes, impelled by forces much stronger than those binding the particles of the solid there exist the transport phenomena, in which heat, electricity, and matter itself are carried through the structure, under the gentle influence of a gradient of temperature, of electric field potential, or of atomic concentration.  If we insist on a particulate, electronic theory of electricity, the high conductivity of metals such as copper and silver is exceedingly difficult to explain.  The electrons must penetrate through closely packed arrays of atoms as though these scarcely existed.  It is as if one could play cricket in the jungle.

John Ziman, Electrons and Phonons, Oxford University Press (1960).