On the importance of conferences

Since the establishment of the scientific method in 17th century thanks to Galileo Galilei[1], the key point has been to combine the rigorous scientific research work with the necessity to diffuse the know-how and the relative scientific achievements.What really made a difference can be summarized in two points:

  1.  the human being is not purely objective, being sometimes driven to conclusions on a certain phenomenon by instinct or being biased by previous experiences. This might be good for survival, but not in science. Observing the revolution of some moons and planets around the sun, gave to Galileo the chance to confirmed the Copernican model[2], in a time where the Earth was believed to be in the center of the Universe. The scientific method was, first of all, a way to establish which sort of errors we are keen to do;
  2. as a consequence, the need for a rigorous a common language to exchange ideas and theories raised, funding the math the most natural communication tool for it.

On the other hand, this enlightenment definitively placed the man in a brand-new position, pushing the progress for the well-being of society as never before. The discovery of vaccines or new means for exploration, just to cite a couple of examples, generated a plethora of enhancements in almost every aspect of life and technology. From Galileo to the discovery of electromagnetism there is only a “small” gap of ca. 200 years. From the first plane model developed by the Wright brothers (1903) to the Apollo 11 mission that reached the Moon (1969), there were only 66 years of gap. All these progresses have seen the light thanks to a continuous exchange of information and collaborations between scientist and experts in particular fields.

The key feature of the scientific method lies on the power of proofs: if the model does not explain the results, it is discarded in favor to another. From the very beginning, the communication aspect has been recognized as an inseparable facet of the scientific work. Although it might look trivial, to properly deliver science, especially to a non-expert audience, it is a really difficult task. Many scientists become famous thanks to their skill as science communicators, explaining and inspiring young generations to pursue a scientific career. Among the most famous there are Richard Feyman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Roger Penrose, for instance. On the other hand, to be scientist does not mean necessary to be able to deliver science in an effective way. There is the need to train people to do it properly. Thus, the importance of joining conferences, workshops and public presentations, preferentially tailored to a specific target of people, is extremely important. The route to become confident is quite steep at the very beginning, of course. But, as a matter of fact, experience plays a crucial role, allowing, meeting after meeting and conference after conference, to be more and more easygoing.

As a part of a scientific international project, one of our duties as ESR was to take part to international conferences, presenting and defending our results and researches.

There are many different aspects linked to the participation to these events. For the majority of us, it has been the first, adrenaline direct experience. On top of it, joining these sorts of events allows you to be part of a community. Often, the chance to participate to conferences is also a chance to travel in a new country, discovering the particular culture. We almost literally spanned half of the globe, going from the USA to Japan, passing through Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, etc. Another important aspect is the chance to meet important scientists, and to directly interface with them, maybe discussing a particular aspect of the research, that might be based on their work.

Finally, as a part of our duty, we also joined some workshops dedicated to non-specialized audience. It is important to let know to people unfamiliar with science and, more specifically to our kind of research, why we are working on a specific topic, which are the main outcomes correlated, and which are the correlated benefits they, and society, can take advantage from. As a matter of fact, the importance of this critical point is rising day by day. It looks counterintuitive, but in our progressed society, some people still believe in fun facts, although definitively accounted by published works by internationally recognized experts. While, on one hand, the access to information was made easier thanks to the advent of internet, on the other hand, it is rather straightforward to fake and create unproved theories and methods, especially in the medical field. The major victim of this is, often, the non-specialized audience, because of the lack of tools for counterchecking the proposed theory or else. So, as a part of the ITN consortium, it is our duty to explain in the most effective possible way how we produce science, justifying why these projects have to be found. To these, many interesting activities have been planned, like the European Research Night[3] or the Pint of Science[4] meetings, both totally devoted to let people to get in touch with our world, sometimes seen as something arid and far from the public interest.

Here are reported some of the most important international conferences the ESR have attended:

  • The 16th International Congress of Quantum Chemistry (ICQC);
  • 11th Triennial Congress of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists;
  • Computational Molecular Science, Warwick;
  • FemEx, The Netherlands;
  • 8th Molecular Quantum Mechanics, Uppsala;
  • Electronic Structure: Principles and Applications, Castellon de la Plana/Toledo;
  • European Graphene Forum, Paris;
  • 9th International Meeting on Atomic and Molecular Physics and Chemistry, Berlin;
  • International Conference on Molecular Spins and Quantum Technology, Osaka;
  • The 15th International Conference on Molecule-based Magnets, Sendai;
  • Post-ICMM on the State of the Art in Bistable Magnetic Molecules, Fukuoka.

[1] Albert Einstein, “On the Method of Theoretical Physics”, in Essays in Science (Dover, 2009), pp. 12-21;

[2] Nicolaus Copernicus, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium”;

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/actions/european-researchers-night_en;

[4] https://pintofscience.com;

Tommaso Francese

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *