Review of the Annual Meeting 2012 in Zürich

Christophe Rossel, SPS President, during his welcome note. [1]
SPS honorary member Jürg Fröhlich
gave the first plenary talk. [2]
The SELF module [4]

This year’s annual meeting took place on 21-22 June 2012 at the Hönggerberg campus of the ETHZ, jointly organized with the four National Centers of Competence in Cesearch (NCCR) MaNEP, MUST, Nano and QSIT as well as with the Swiss Society for Crystallography. More than 550 persons attended the meeting. The scientific program was rather dense with 237 talks distributed over 14 parallel sessions and with 170 posters.

The plenary session of Thursday morning was opened by Jürg Fröhlich (ETHZ) who presented in details the "Gauge theory of states of matter"- a unified formalism based on the Landau’s theory of order parameters- and its applications to the analysis of the 2D electron gas exhibiting the quantum Hall effect and to the theory of topological insulators. This theoretical session was completed by a lively talk of Thierry Giamarchi (Uni GE) who took his audience in the exotic world of one dimensional systems such as quantum magnets, organic superconductors, carbon nanotubes or quantum wires and even cold atom systems.

To celebrate the birth of crystallography in 1912, Dieter Schwarzenbach (EPFL) reviewed the history of X-ray diffraction and the developments of the theoretical and experimental methods in crystallography. He presented also the novelties in the modern techniques and tools for the determination of the most complicated crystal structures.

This first plenary session was followed by the Prize Ceremony and the General Assembly of the Society.

After the afternoon parallel and poster sessions, a grandiose public lecture was given by the Nobel laureate Samuel C.C. Ting (CERN, MIT) on the space-borne Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a state-of-the-art particle physics detector deployed on the ISS by the last space shuttle. He explained in a very entertaining presentation to a full auditorium, the saga of the multi-billion AMS experiment, which uses the unique environment of space to search for antimatter and dark matter, and collect information from cosmic sources emanating from stars and galaxies millions of light years beyond the Milky Way.

In the Friday morning plenary session, Jörg Peter Kotthaus (LMU München) demonstrated the increasing importance of nanomechanical resonators operating at radio frequencies to measure the smallest masses and displacements. He addressed in particular the issues and challenges related to the coherent control of nanomechanical motion and of the switching between bistable states. Majed Chergui (EPFL) gave then a broad review on their work on charge, spin and structural dynamics of molecular systems investigated by ultrafast optical and X-ray spectroscopy.

At noon, a well attended public tutorial on Ultrafast Biology, organized by NCCR MUST and ETH FAST, was given by Gebhard F. X. Schertler (ETHZ, PSI).

The scientific exhibition with 21 exhibitors was organized in the main hall and attracted much attention from the participants. Posters and a model explaining the development status of the future X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) at PSI were also on display. In addition, the "SELF" module, designed by EMPA and EAWAG as a living area and workplace for two persons, independent of external energy and water supplies, was installed in front of the main entrance. SELF is 7.7 meters long, 3.45 meters wide and 3.2 meters high and 5 tons heavy container aimed also to test innovative technologies and materials.

This meeting evidenced again the high level and the diversity of the scientific research in the Swiss universities and research organizations. It was also very satisfying to observe a large participation of young enthusiastic physicists sharing their research results and their experiences in a lively manner. It is worth mentioning the successful session of the new section "Earth Atmosphere and Environmental Physics" with several topics ranging from climate models, ionizing radiation effects on our environment to energy demand and resources.

I would like to thank here all my colleagues who contributed to the success of this SPS annual meeting by helping at the local organization and in setting up an interesting scientific program. Special thanks also to the D-PHYS of ETHZ for their valuable support before, during and after the conference. The SPS acknowledges the support and active contribution of the main Swiss NCCRs in physics that made again this event 2012 very attractive. Of course the SPS is also grateful to the long time financial support of the two academies SCNAT and SATW, of our sponsors ABB, IBM, Oerlikon for the SPS prizes and of our associate members. We are looking forward to another great conference, next year in Linz, Austria.

Christophe Rossel, SPS Vice-President



Annual Meeting of the Swiss Society for Crystallography
Dieter Schwarzenbach [7]

The annual meeting of the Swiss Society for Crystallography was held jointly with that of the Swiss Physical Society. 48 SSCr registrants along with some of the over 550 from the SPS enjoyed scientific sessions focussing on a historical review of some of the milestones in crystallography since the first diffraction patterns were observed 100 years ago in 1912.

Dieter Schwarzenbach presented a plenary lecture where he described the initial experiments of Max von Laue and his team. The discovery of diffraction was revolutionary as it provided a method to study the geometry of matter at atomic resolution and opened up a field of crystallography that is so essential today. Dieter further described some of the fundamental notions about structure determination that were worked out within the first 10 years. Some key events like methods for structure solution were critical, but also important was the development of instrumentation and computers to do the calculations which can today be accomplished in a few seconds, compared with the years of hand calculations done in the early days. Dieter closed with some remarks about some of the specialist areas of crystallography, such as the study of aperiodic and quasi crystals and charge densities.

This was followed by a very well attended joint microsymposium on "100 Years of Diffraction". Michael Glazer enthralled us with details of lives of the Braggs, from their time in Australia, the insight leading to the deduction of Braggs Law and their later scientific activities. Jost Lemmerich described the life of Max von Laue, his later life and his interaction with many prominent colleagues of his time. Larry Falvello focussed on the origins and development of macromolecular crystallography, the key people involved in the early years, such as Astbury, Bernal, Hodgkin, Bragg, Pauling, Kendrew & Perutz, to name just a few, and the rapid rise in the number of macromolecular structure determinations being conducted today. Ton Spek rounded off a fascinating session by describing the life of Bijvoet and the development of the use of anomalous dispersion to determine absolute structure.

The final session of the afternoon focussed on current and new developments in crystallography. There was strong interest in the progress with the SwissFEL, the upgraded materials science beamline at the SLS, new methods for investigating disordered systems, high resolution X-ray diffraction applications and a status report on SINQ. These were supplemented by interesting talks on the use of charge flipping for structure solution from powder diffraction data, nanosized intercluster compounds and Brazil twinning in quartz.

The day finished with an evening poster session, where 12 interesting, well presented SSCr posters could be viewed – congratulations to Laure Guenee, Geneva, on winning the poster prize kindly sponsored by ScNAT. Those hardy souls who remained for the grill party afterwards were treated to a very spectacular thunderstorm!

Tony Linden, Inst. of Organic Chemistry, University of Zürich



History of Physics Session

The 2012 session of the SPS History of Physics section took place on the afternoon of June 21. There were 6 talks scheduled, to which one should add the two historical talks that were included in the Crystallography session celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the discovery of X-ray diffraction by Max von Laue. As previous year, collaborators from the History and Philosophy of Science Unit of Geneva University used the opportunity of the session to present their current results on the history of Western Switzerland physics: Jan Lacki presented a scientific portrait of the Freiburg University professor Albert Gockel, a key character in the discovery of cosmic radiation of which 2012 marks also the hundredth anniversary of discovery by the Austrian Victor F. Hess, while Régis Catinaud introduced the audience to the early history of the Lausanne engineering school Ecole Speciale which, after being absorbed by Lausanne University to become one of its Faculties, gave eventually birth to Lausanne’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale.

Adrien Vila Vals from the University of Lyon, working currently on a Ph.D. thesis devoted to the French reception of Quantum Mechanics discussed the complex paternity of the Proca equation which was separately investigated by three key figures of quantum physics, Lanczos, Proca and de Broglie. Vila Vals used the opportunity of this episode to clearly characterize the difference of theoretical styles between these three theoreticians.

Prof. Thomas Wesolowski from the University of Geneva gave quite an original contribution discussing some of the current trends in his field, the Density Functional Theory of Quantum Chemistry. In an insightful way, he showed how the same theoretical situations linked to the necessity of a pertubative approach to the electronic density functional received in past years different names and were associated different meanings, mirroring the varying scientific traditions and communitarian preferences of the scholars involved in the field.

Another Ph.D. student from Geneva, Araceli Sanchez Varela presented her most recent results on the intricate policy of the energy upgrades of CERN’s previous accelerator LEP, showing quite convincingly how it affected the very last LEP search for the Higgs boson which took place just before LEP’s closure in 2000.

Finally, Prof. Jean-François Loude from Lausanne discussed the fruitful partnership between the instrument makers of the Haag-Streit enterprise and the physicist and meteorologist Heinrich Wild, illustrating the importance of multilateral links between science, technology and industry.

As mentioned above, there were two historical talks given in the special History of Crystallography session organized in partnership with the History of Physics section. Prof. Michael Glazer from Oxford Clarendon Laboratory gave a very entertaining talk devoted to father and son Bragg, while Dr. Rolf Lemmerich from Berlin, editor of von Laue correspondence, introduced the audience to the life and times of the German Nobel prize winner.

Participation to the History of Physics session was fair, with people joining all along the session but it could have been certainly better. As in previous years, the majority of the attending were young people: this confirms the potential of the History of Physics section as a way for the Swiss Physical Society to reach young members.

Jan Lacki, Uni Genève, SPS-HoP


Everything was ready for a nice grillparty in the garden. A very heavy thunderstorm, just in time for the buffet opening, forced the more than 150 hungry guests to flee into the mensa instead. [8]


Particle, Astro- and Nuclear Physics Session
Nobel Laureate Samuel C. C. Ting presenting the spaceborne Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). [12]

The TASK session of the 2012 annual meeting again saw an increase in the quantity and quality of contributed papers. Close to 40 were presented orally, with 11 additional ones presented as posters.
As was to be expected by the strong participation of Swiss groups in LHC experiments, more than half of the contributions concerned new results from ATLAS, CMS and LHCb. Several aspects of Standard Model physics at the LHC were covered, while many presentations concerned the search for new phenomena. In addition, the performance of the experiments and details of the physics analysis methodology were presented.

In addition to this dominant theme, new results from PSI and progress on the production and usage of ultracold neutrons received a lot of attention. Progress in neutrino experiments and in the search for Dark Matter using noble liquid detectors was reported. One of the highlights on the theoretical side was a talk by Oleg Ruchayskiy presenting work performed with Micha Shaposhnikov on the Neutrino Minimal Standard Model, which promises new insight into the matter-antimatter asymmetry, the nature of Dark Matter and neutrino masses. As far as astroparticle physics is concerned, the meeting discussed progress reports on ground-based and space-born detectors with Swiss participation or leadership, like AMS, POLAR and FACT.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Cosmic Rays by V. Hess, Nobel laureate Samuel C. C. Ting gave a well-attended public lecture on his Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment, taking data since May 2011 on the International Space Station. After a very personal and inspiring account of the challenges presented by precision experimentation in the hostile space environment, he reminded the audience that most discoveries in particle physics were indeed made by experiments aiming at entirely different goals. “Exploring a new territory with a precision instrument is the key to discovery,” Ting concluded.

(The presentation and a movie shown during the talk are available here.)

As observed in previous meetings, the quality of talks and posters at the annual SPS meetings is in constant progression. It is to be expected that future TASK sessions must either be longer or more parallel to accommodate the wealth of contributions. I would like to thank all contributors, especially the PhD students, their advisors and group leaders, for excellent talks, the session chairs and the whole audience for their continued interest in the TASK sessions and the lively discussions.

Martin Pohl, Université de Genève, SPS-TASK



Magnetism at Interfaces

This session focused on magnetic phenomena at interfaces in systems with different length scales ranging from thin films to nanostructures and molecules. The session took place over two days and contained 3 invited and 17 contributed talks as well as a poster session. The contributions covered fields such as magnetic properties of molecules, clusters and nanoparticles coupled to surfaces as well as interfacial effects in thin films and multilayers producing novel electronic properties and spin structures. The participants reported about both static and dynamic phenomena, including thermal- and laser-induced effects. The mixture of internationally well-recognized invited speakers on the one hand and contributions of young scientists on the other hand both from theoretical and experimental studies resulted in a very stimulating atmosphere throughout both days with many interesting discussions. This successful session reflects the active role of the Swiss community in this field and their strong connections to international efforts on this topic.

Armin Kleibert, PSI Villigen



Majed Chergui [14]
Gebhard Schertler [15]

For the first time NCCR MUST was a part of the two-day SPS Annual Meeting.

The focus in MUST (Molecular Ultrafast Science and Technology) is to create new experimental and theoretical tools and to apply them to understand how matter functions at the electronic, atomic and molecular level. In particular in MUST we want to find out how matter changes its structure during a reaction and how quanta of energy are transported on a microscopic spatial and ultrafast time scale. MUST is embedded in the vision that we can contribute to important challenges such as alternative energy sources and improving health. MUST takes a broad view through basic research. The network started mid 2010.

MUST organized a one day session with talks and posters within the meeting. 20 members of the MUST network gave presentations on their recent scientific results. Group members displayed their work on 27 posters during both days which were very well attended.

Majed Chergui (EPFL) in his invited plenary talk reviewed the recent progress in ultrafast X-ray spectroscopy which greatly benefited from the femtosecond hard X-ray slicing source at PSI in Villigen. Ultrafast molecular magnetism dynamics could be resolved for the first time.

Gebhard Schertler (PSI) gave the public an invited tutorial on the "Importance of ultrafast processes in biology" which was given the lunch break.

Peter Hamm (Uni Zürich) presented one of the highlights within MUST with the invited talk on "Multidimensional IR spectroscopy of water". The rest of the invited talks were given by our new PI member (Johnson) and some of our junior PIs: Hans Jakob Wörner (ETH Zürich) on "Probing electronic valence shell dynamics in molecules", Steven Johnson (ETH Zürich) on "Femtosecond dynamics of atomic structure in solids" and Fabrizio Carbone (EPFL) on "Non-retarded pairing interaction in a high-Tc cuprate".

Ursula Keller, ETH Zürich, NCCR MUST director, Rainer Sigg, ETH Zürich, NCCR MUST scientific officer




During this year's meeting of the Swiss Physical Society the NCCR QSIT (Quantum Science and Technology) organized one of the sessions in cooperation with the other physics-related NCCRs.

One highlight on Thursday was the SPS prize ceremony. One former QSIT student, Dr. Johannes Güttinger, who is now a postdoc in Barcelona, shared the SPS Award in General Physics, sponsored by ABB for his pioneering PhD work on graphene quantum dots.

The QSIT talks took place on Friday and started with a plenary presentation by Prof. Kotthaus from Univ. Munich. The talk gave a fantastic overview about recent developments in nanomechanical systems. A sequence of speakers from various groups participating in NCCR QSIT reported about their results in quantum optics, noise-spectroscopy in self-assembled quantum dots, graphene connected to superconducting electrodes in the quantum Hall regime, graphene three-terminal dots, as well as the observation of the strong coupling regime in a two-dimensional electron gas coupled to photonic crystal structures with resonance frequencies below 10 meV.

The poster session in combination with the lunch buffet was used for discussion between groups. A variety of topics was presented by the members of QSIT, the other NCCRs and numerous other young Swiss physicists.

Klaus Ensslin, ETH Zürich



Session: Careers for Physicists

The meeting included a session on "Careers for Physicists", which was organized in collaboration with the "Physikalische Gesellschaft Zürich" (PGZ). Similar to last year the session was very well attended especially by younger physicists, who wanted to know more about career opportunities outside the academic field. Speakers from different fields talked about their work and what makes it interesting for them, but also what skills are important.

Lukas Mahler from Sensirion showed how physicists contribute with their knowledge in different fields to the success of a startup company. Thomas Christen from ABB Corporate Research talked about his work as a theoretical physicists in a larger company and how modeling is important there. Florian Weissbach from Fair GmbH presented the area of research management and its importance in connection with the European funding agencies. Finally Thierry Oggier from Mesa Imaging AG presented how 3D imaging technology helped in a real world application.

The talks lead to discussions with the speakers even after the session. The good attendance showed that information on career perspectives are of great interest to students and that first hand information from people working in different areas is helpful to them.

Kai Hencken, ABB Baden, SPS-INDU



Teachers Afternoon

With nearly thirty participants the traditional teachers afternoon was a success. The goal of the session was to bring together all Swiss players who develop didactic material in the field of nanoscience together with representatives from high schools. Gymnasium teachers, representatives from universities and universities of applied sciences as well as future teachers got a general overview on the didactic possibilities to integrate nanoscience topics into a traditional physics curriculum at high school level. A large variety of offers has been presented. The offers ranged from downloadable lecture material over lab work packages to invitations to visit Switzerland’s most prestigious research institutions. The intense discussions that followed the presentations showed that the interchange between high schools and research institutions has become more and more important during the last decade. Due to the enormous increase of the mediatization of science and research, the demand for ready-to-use didactic material covering recent findings is growing rapidly. For the next years, we will try to meet this demand again through topical sessions covering the integration of actual science into the science curricula of Swiss high schools.

Tibor Gyalog, Uni Basel



© ETHZ / Heidi Hostettler: [1-5], [7], [12-13], [15-18]
© ETHZ / Rainer Sigg: [14]
© SPS: [6], [8-11]