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[an error occurred while processing this directive] AVS International Symposium Meeting Report

November 12-16, 2006, San Francisco, CA

By Alex John Brown, SPS Reporter & 2006 SPS Intern
Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH

Alex Brown  

I had the opportunity to attend the AVS 53rd International Symposium & Exhibition along with the Industrial Physics Forum in San Francisco, CA from November 12-15 2006.  The invitation was extended to me as an opportunity to present the research I had performed as an SPS Intern over the summer at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST).  In addition to enjoying classic sourdough bread with Gary White, dining with the crew of AIP and exploring the streets of San Francisco in the evenings, I was able to attend invited lectures by experts in thin-films, metrology, and medical physics, as well as interview the Vice-Program Chair of AVS, Neal Shinn.

When I arrived in San Francisco on Sunday evening, I made my way to the Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel and checked in to my room.  After having dinner with Dr. White at a famous San Francisco bread shop, I prepared for a poster session at the Moscone Center where, along with about ten other physics students, I presented my research.

I saw at this event one of the big perks of working in physics; free food.  In addition to being in the presence of talented and motivated researchers and having the opportunity to explain my research to scientists on the forefront of their fields, I had a selection of cheeses, juices, crackers, and salsas with which to satisfy the appetite I had worked up since dinner.  There were students presenting research from a wide variety of schools, from East Asia to Canada and many universities in the States.  In examining the posters of other students, I found some projects closely related to my field and some in fields I hadn’t even heard of.  It was inspiring to see such a broad range of scientific interest.  I even met a Ph.D. candidate from Canada whose thesis topic was closely tied to the research I had done (combinatory thin-film composition and measurement), and he was extremely interested in my results and the potential application of some of my techniques to his project.  This was an excellent opportunity to get an overview of what other undergraduates are doing around the world in the physical sciences.  For the following few days, I spent much of my time in invited talks listening to particular researchers discuss progress in their fields.

One of the many invited talks during the AVS 53rd International Symposium.  

On Monday morning, I heard M.M. Sung from Hanyang University in South Korea present on the lab’s use of self-assembled monolayers and micro contact printing in order to make electrical components as well as their Nanotube and nanocable fabrication techniques.  Later that morning, I attended a talk by L.J. Gamble of the University of Washington on quantitative XPS imaging of DNA microarray surfaces.  It was fascinating to hear about the many imaging techniques currently in place along with the strengths and weaknesses of each and why this lab’s methods are the most desirable for their particular application.

Dr. J.R. Baker, Jr., a medical doctor from the University of Michigan, gave an invited talk on DNA-linked dendrimer nanoparticle systems for cancer diagnosis and treatment in which he explained the results of research on treating cancer in mice as well as the difficulties of achieving approval from the FDA once a medicine or procedure has been discovered. Another researcher explained some difficulties associated with atomic force microscopy in simple terms.  The researcher discussed how if the tip of the probe is incident on a local maximum, it will relax or flex to the side so as to sit in a lower area, (shown on the right of the figure below) which would throw off the measurements.


S.A. Brown of Nano Cluster Devices Ltd introduced the technique of making environmentally sensitive electronic devices out of nanoclusters instead of nanowires.  The clusters would expand or shrink depending of factors such as temperature or the atmospheric concentration of certain gasses, and in their expansion, make contact with one another to complete a circuit.  I attended many other lectures that week and these lectures were an excellent way for me to learn about lots of different research going on in experimental physics and the status of these research fields.

It was about this point in the conference that I noticed my phone’s battery was falling dangerously low, and I was waiting for a call from Dr. Neil Shinn to do an interview, so I had to get it charged quickly.  Unfortunately, the charger that I brought with me plugged into USB and the computers in the business lounge of the hotel had a very high cost-per-minute for use, so I had to look for a wireless phone store.  When I found one, I was able to plug my phone into the charger for one of the display phones and get a bit of a charge on it, but the store’s manager didn’t like that technique once he noticed, and I had to break down and buy a $30 charger I would only need for 3 days.

With a fully recharged phone, I was able to attend a session with Stefan W. Hell, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and to hear him lecture on one of the contributions his research has made to microscopy.  Hell discussed techniques by which the diffraction barrier no longer exists and molecular resolution is possible through a single-photon process.

A view of Lombard Street in San Francisco.  

The evenings were more relaxed times during which the scientists could unwind or spend time together in San Francisco in restaurants and shops.  During one of the planned evenings of hors d’oeuvres and wine I saw my division chief from NIST, Dave Seiler.  He was excited to see that the research one of his interns had performed was being presented at the conference, and it was good to see a familiar face.  I met quite a few people that evening who were concerned about physics research and interest at the undergraduate level.

Another evening, I was fortunate enough to accompany the attendees from the American Institute of Physics to dinner at a very nice restaurant.  While we were waiting for our table, we spotted Carlos Santana with his wife at a table in the room.  Seeing a celebrity was just another exciting perk of having the conference in San Francisco; another was the Ghirardelli chocolate everywhere you looked.

On the first floor of the Moscone Center, there were a few hundred vendors and exhibitors showing off and trying to sell their laboratory equipment.  Although I had no buying power and my liberal arts university is unlikely to invest in a new spectroscopic ellipsometer anytime soon, the exhibitors were receptive to my questions and willing to hand out tote bags, pens, mugs, stickers, and business cards with their company’s logo on them.  I was impressed both with the complexity of their products and the price for which some of the components sold.

Dr. Neil Shinn, President, AVS  

One of the highlights of the conference was being able to interview AVS President and Vice-Program Chair, Neil Shinn.  He explained that AVS is the premier interdisciplinary science and technology society, and it is a society for scientists who may not fit into engineer, chemical or physical societies, and he went on to explain that research in vacuums typically requires interdisciplinary work. 

Dr. Shinn told me that “AVS is the home of people who like to operate at the interface.”  He believes that the biggest challenge facing scientists in his field right now is the biggest challenge across the board in science, and that is having the public know about and acknowledge the value and contribution of science and technology in society.  He believes that giving science a human face is one way in which that can be done.  The image of scientists in mismatched socks and lab coats doesn’t give the whole picture of science now, according to the Vice-Program Chair.  Physics is in everyday life, and it is “tackling problems that will ultimately make life better.  Real people have wonderful lives in science and technology,” Shinn says. 

He told me that his initial interest in physics grew out of the satisfaction in using mathematics to do something.  He refers to physical science as the “Sherlock Holmes story of modern times,” and explained that “research means going out and trying to find an answer that no one else knows.” 

Once I had finished with my questions, he had a few of his own.  Dr. Shinn wanted to know, from the perspective of an undergraduate physics student, what educators and researchers can do to raise interest in studying physical sciences for young people.  I told him that a key in that process would be letting students see and take part in real research before they graduate.  Once people are studying physics at the university level, if they don’t get to see the application of physics in research or industry, the eighty-hour weeks of solving problems from a book can somewhat diminish their passion.  Getting people in labs to go to campuses and give talks for undergraduates can both rekindle the excitement for students studying physics, and spark an interest for people in other fields of study.

After the conference I headed up to Berkeley to visit a potential graduate school, then flew back to the Midwest and resumed classes at Wittenberg University.  The conference was an amazing experience where I got to share my passion, hear others share their passions, and pick up lots of free stuff from exhibitors.

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