Posted by Arjendu on May 30, 2010
I just got back from DAMOP — the Annual Meeting of the Division of Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics of the American Physical Society. It was difficult to get to, as it often is, in terms of timing: given the Carleton calendar, what falls ‘after school is out’ for the bulk of the nation is during the last hard stretch of the year for us. But it’s always worth it.
I started going to DAMOP when I was at Rice. I was a visiting faculty member there, with my primary responsibility being revamping their introductory physics classes. I also had complete and total freedom for the first time from working with a research supervisor. Half-way through my time there, when I had started wrapping up projects I had brought with me, I decided that it would be a really useful thing to learn about the great experiments that were going on there.
I got involved in two collaborations: With Randy Hulet during a satisfying little foray into understanding the dynamics of Bose-Einstein condensates and with Barry Dunning on a project on controlled formation of a wave-packet in Rydberg atom dynamics (I even have a paper with my name on it that, shockingly for those who know me, actually has experimental data in it).
It was my first experience working closely with experimentalists, and I benefited greatly from learning how to translate their reality into my equations, and vice versa. The first couple of trips to DAMOP were to report on these results, and I quickly realized that even though I was not raised an AMO physicist and honestly will probably never really be one, I really enjoy the meeting and the community, so I’ve taken to going back frequently.
This trip was much like the last couple of times I’ve been there — plenty of physics, and even more catching up with physicists. And it’s never clear to me whether I benefit more from the formal or the informal aspects of these interactions. The ‘obvious’ or formal point of going to conferences is to learn physics from all the talks going on, as well as to present your own talks for feedback. I went to plenty of talks, and learned a bit (though not as much as I have at previous DAMOPs, for whatever reason of age, distraction, choice of talks, quality of presentations, luck of the draw you care to choose).
I didn’t make a presentation this time, but two of my students did. Qi Li, a rising senior, acquitted herself admirably during a special undergraduate research presentation session. This was possibly the only refereed session at DAMOP, and also one of the most useful for me, because sometimes I do need to hear about the physics in the most basic way possible, given what I say above about not quite being an AMO physicist. Andrew McClung, who is about to graduate and head off on a Fulbright fellowship to work with Rainer Blatt’s group seemed to enjoy himself and certainly held his own with his poster.
Bu everything that happened above and beyond these formal reasons was equally, if not more valuable. A quick set of snapshots: (1) Many many 2-5 minute ‘elevator talk’ interactions about research with friends and (almost-)strangers, (2) a handful of more detailed and intense conversations where I got good feedback that is still brewing and will definitely influence future research directions, (3) one long (and fairly sweaty) walk to find food with fellow UT-Austin grads Kirk Madison and Dan Steck (and Dan’s students), trying to make up for being banished to parts of the world without good Tex-Mex (to my great pleasure, during that meal and the walks back and forth we also got pretty far on discussions about a possible experiment to look at signatures of non-monotonicity and the quantum-classical transition — I am really looking forward to my follow-up visit in a few months to Dan’s lab).
And then (4,5,6, …) there was catching up with all the people I know from UT-Austin, from Toronto, from Rice, from other DAMOPs and other conferences — oh, and Chad, from the blogosphere — and of course, sighting or being hailed by Carls: Adam Libson, Ben Luey, Tyler Green, Leigh Norris, Marty Ligare … we had a well-filled table at the banquet (since it included several non-Carls including Dave Nitz of St. Olaf let’s call it the Friends of Carleton table).
And now back home for the last stretch before the end of the year, and graduation, and my move to the Deanery. A question all my friends kept asking me: Will you be back here during your Deaning years? At this point, all I can say is that I hope (and more importantly plan, with specific details laid out) to keep the research-related part of me ticking, and to keep conferencing, and visiting folks, and DAMOP-ing …