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Frank Simon | MPI for Physics | Germany

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The Yearly Madness

It is rainy and cold outside… a clear indication that Fall has arrived. This means teaching will start again soon, but it also means another thing: It is annual meeting and annual report season, at least for me. And that means all I’m doing at the moment is preparing talks, giving talks, collecting stuff, and listening to talks. Now, I am part of two new initiatives in Gemany: The Excellence Cluster ‘Origin and Structure of the Universe’, and the Helmholtz Alliance for Physics at the Terascale. These initiatives are very good for our research, since they bring in additional funding for our projects. In that respect, the Excellence Cluster is really crucial, since my whole group is almost entirely funded through it.

However, as always, there is also a price to pay: With each new initiative, there comes also a new annual meeting, a new annual report, and in some cases an Open Day and the like. And those things do take up time. I just finished collecting the numbers needed for the mid-term report of the Terascale Alliance (way too late as is all too common…), one of the uses for the internet connection that I had during my vacation, and now I’m attending the Science Week of the Excellence Cluster, our annual meeting.

The Cluster covers a wide range of topics, from cosmology to astrophysics, astroparticle physics, all the way to particle physics, which is where I come in. So the range of topics of presentations at the Science Week is correspondingly rather wide. Every speaker was instructed to present their topic in a way that it can be understood by colleagues from the other fields. In some cases, this worked quite well (I hope that my talk, which I gave this morning and which I might write more about later, was among those), in other cases it was a complete disaster…  But that is also normal in meetings like this. So currently I get a full blast of observational astrophysics, the processes in stars and supernova explosions, string theory and the mysteries of dark energy. All very interesting, at least when I can follow.

I particularly liked a talk about the supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies, with a focus on the the 4 million solar mass black hole in the center of the Milky Way. A group at the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics has measured the orbits of stars very close to the galactic center, in one case already seeing more than a full revolution (these studies have been going on for a few years). These results are the best proof we currently have for the existence of supermassive black holes, since they give an upper limit on the size of the massive object, leaving (almost no) other possible explanation.

Still, despite all the excitement for topics a bit outside of what I usually work with, life does not stop. So I am frequently checking and writing email, and also preparing for the next annual event: The open day of the MPI for Physics on Saturday, where I will also give a talk, and also contributed to posters for our exhibit. And these events are just the kick-off for a whole series of similar events in the near future, so it is now really the right time to get into the annual meeting mood… Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining, such times are normal facts of life for a scientist, certainly once you move beyond the post-doc level… And all those meetings are also a good opportunity to stay in touch with what is going on in neighboring fields of physics.

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