Review of the Annual Meeting 2010 in Basel

This year, the SPS annual meeting was organized at the University of Basel, which is celebrating its 550th anniversary. More than 500 participants came to the Kollegienhaus located in the old town of Basel for the two days conference. About 180 talks and as many posters were presented within the 9 parallel sessions. This large number of contributions is due to the participation of our partners: the national centers of competence in research MaNEP (Materials with Novel Electronic Properties), NANO (Swiss Nanoscience Institute), QP (Quantum Photonics) as well as the CCMX (Material Science and Technology) and the Division of Polymers and Colloids of the Swiss Chemical Society (SCS).

Most striking this year was the presence of a large number of students, the lively poster sessions and coffee breaks and the excellent atmosphere around the 17 stands of the exhibitors. The Kollegienhaus’s configuration with its beautiful garden contributed also to the success. At the grill party over 300 persons gathered in the garden, enjoying the excellent and abundant food between sunshine and a light rain shower. A large TV screen for the WM soccer game Chile-Switzerland was also appreciated by many participants who stayed until late in the night.

The plenary sessions were attended by a large audience. The first invited speaker was Prof. Gerd Leuchs (MPI Erlangen) who gave us an overlook of the fascinating developments of the laser in the last 50 years entitled "50 Jahre Laser: Genauer – Schneller – Kleiner – Heller". Prof. Felicita Pauss (ETH Zürich & CERN) discussed then the new era that we enter today in unraveling the mystery of matter, space and time thanks to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. "Dirac Fermions in HgTe Quantum Wells" was the title of the following talk by Prof. Laurens W. Molenkamp (Uni Würzburg) who reported on the quantum spin Hall effect observed in this material. Invited by the SCS Polymers and Colloids division, Prof. Julius Vancso (Uni Twente) reviewed the recent developments in organometallic polymers used for patterning and nanofabrication. On the second day the new professor Martino Poggio (Uni Basel) shared with us his enthusiasm in describing how to detect single spins (electronic and possibly even nuclear) and do magnetic resonance imaging with nanometer size cantilevers. Prof. Vincenzo Savona (EPFL) concluded this second plenary session with a presentation entitled "Polaritons: Bose-Einstein condensation and quantum correlations in semiconductors" expanding on the physics of polaritons and the first observation of polariton-pair entanglement.

The PSI was also present with a model describing the SwissFEL project, i.e., the construction of the hard-x-ray free-electron laser, planned to start its activity in 2016.

The SPS prize ceremony took place on the second day of the meeting. Erik van Heumen (Uni Genève) received the IBM prize 2010 for his work entitled "Towards a quantitative understanding of the high Tc phenomenon". The OC Oelikon prize was attributed to Sandra Foletti for her work on "Universal quantum control of two-electron spin quantum bits using dynamic nuclear polarization" and the ABB prize to Konstantinos G. Lagoudakis, (EPFL) for his work on the "Observation of half-quantum vortices in an exciton-polariton condensate" (see this page for details).

The honorary SPS membership was awarded this year to five distinguished members, namely Professors Hans Beck, Øystein Fischer, Hans-Joachim Güntherodt, T. Maurice Rice and Louis Schlapbach for their outstanding contribution to the Swiss physics community and to our Society.

Christophe Rossel, SPS President

Particle, Astro- and Nuclear Physics Session

About 65 contributions were submitted in the area of Particle, Astro- and Nuclear Physics and a very interesting and dense program of high quality talks could be assembled for the TASK sessions. Following feedback and experience from the past few meetings, the topics of the sessions were more mixed up, interleaving theory and experiment, high energy and neutrinos, low energy and nuclear physics.

In the first session on Monday afternoon various recently obtained outstanding results were presented. After the plenary talk by Felicitas Pauss (ETH Zürich and CERN) in the morning about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Xin Wu (University of Geneva) and Simon De Visscher (University of Zürich) showed the first results of the LHC detectors ATLAS and CMS, respectively. While the most interesting physics results are still ahead, it was impressive to see the functionality of the machine and the detectors obtained so far.
Dorothee Hildebrand (ETH Zürich) showed a selection of the recent results of the MAGIC imaging atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes, with their impact on particle physics at the highest energies.
Aldo Antognini (MPQ Garching, ETH Zürich) presented a measurement of the Lambshift in muonic hydrogen which has been used to extract a new value for the rms charge radius of the proton. Here a very startling discrepancy to earlier determinations is now a hot topic in the field.
Another outstanding result was reported by Antonio Ereditato (University of Bern): The OPERA experiment in the CERN to Gran Sasso CNGS neutrino beam has seen its first tau event candidate which – with more statistical significance – will eventually directly prove the appearance of tau-neutrinos from an originally muon-neutrino beam.

TASK then continued in two parallel sessions, essentially fully covering the status of the Swiss research in the field. Many interesting discussions also followed during the poster session and, especially, at the barbecue on Monday evening. I would like to thank all contributors, and especially the PhD students and their advisors and group leaders, for excellent talks and continued support of the TASK sessions.

Klaus Kirch, ETHZ & PSI, SPS-TASK


The Materials with Novel Electronic Properties (MaNEP) session

This session, organized by MaNEP, one of the National Centers of Competence in Research (NCCR) of the Swiss National Science Foundation, has been a great success. The different blocks stretched over both days and contained 6 invited and 16 contributed talks. These talks were covering fields such as non-conventional and high-Tc superconductivity including the new Fe based materials, progress in the understanding of low dimensional magnetic systems and fundamental aspects of magnetic ground states, electronic condensation of Bose-Einstein type, as well as electronic properties of interfaces. These represented major fields of the activity in NCCR. Whereas the invited talks where all given by internationally well known scientists, the contributed talks were all held by young persons, either post-docs or PhD students. The session was always very well attended, and most of the key members of the NCCR were attending the meeting, leading to lively discussions and questions after the individual talks. A significant component of the success of the session was the strong participation of young scientists and the many contributions of posters, which with its 102 contributions were more than half of all the posters presented at the SPS meeting. The stimulated discussions at the posters strongly contributed to the network character of the NCCR, and were an important and integral part of the session. Additionally included in the session was the opportunity for the IBM award winner (who belongs to a MaNEP group) to present the prize winning study in more detail. The very strong attendance of the NCCR MaNEP participating research groups showed that MaNEP puts high priority in this meeting and shows their strong support for the society and its annual meeting.

Urs Staub, PSI Villigen, SPS-KOND

Nano Session

The session on nanoscience and nanotechnology, organized together with the NCCR Nano and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute Basel, attracted a larger audience than in the years before. Of course, the home field advantage was important. But the fact that 70 posters have been presented and the two days were full of interesting talks might have been even more important. Many young researchers presented their work, among them not only physicists but also chemists, biologists and the first PhD students with a MSc in Nanoscience.

Tibor Gyalog, Uni Basel, SPS Physics Education section

Quantum Photonics Session

The excellent opening plenary lecture (50 Jahre Laser: Genauer – Schneller – Kleiner – Heller) in the field of Quantum Photonics was delivered by Prof. Gerd Leuchs from the Max-Planck-Institut für die Physik des Lichts (Erlangen) in honour of the 50th anniversary of the “invention” of the laser. As usual in even-numbered years the annual SPS meetings are predominantly organized in conjuction with the National Centers of Competence in Research (NCCR). While MaNEP and NANO showed a strong presence with several sessions, the NCCR Quantum Photonics had only a single session with five oral presentations and two poster contributions. A greater effort shall be devoted in future years to attract a stronger participation of contributors from the fields of quantum optics, photonics, and atomic/molecular physics under the common roof of the newly founded SPS-section on Atomic Physics and Quantum Optics (AQUO).

Antoine Weis, Université de Fribourg, SPS-AQUO


Physics and Sustainable Energy Session

The SPS annual meeting included this year a special session on "Physics and Sustainable Energy" covering different aspects of energy production and distribution. It was very well attended, showing that energy is a topic of great interest to many people. Stefan Hirschberg showed that the sustainability of the different energy sources relies on a number of economic, environmental and social criteria. A methodology helps to come to decision support tools. Jochen Kreusel from Desertec presented how energy production in northern Africa can increase the contribution of sustainable energies to the electricity production for Europe. Mark Zimmermann gave an insight view into SELF the self-sufficient home developed by EMPA. Unfortunately the home itself could not be presented in Basel during the conference. Cherry Yuen discussed the challenges and possible solutions that the electrical transmission infrastructure faces due to the introduction of new renewable energy sources. Rakesh Chawla presented the Swiss Master in Nuclear Engineering, a master program by the four key players in this area in Switzerland. Finally Edwin Kolbe discussed the sustainability of nuclear energy and what role it could play in the future energy supply of Switzerland.

Kai Hencken, ABB Baden, SPS-INDU

Rapport on the inaugural session of the SPS History of physics (HoP) section

The first session of the History of Physics section of the SPS took place on Monday, June 21st during the annual meeting of the SPS in Basel. Given the relatively short time between the decision of creating the HoP section and the deadline for submission of papers to the sessions of the Basel meeting, it quickly appeared unfeasible to try building a full fledged HoP session, and doing justice to the wealth of directions of study and styles that pervade current history of physics.

Another decision taken was to open the session to professional historians as well as to “amateurs”, namely those physicists willing to bring their testimony on the times of their studies, on their teachers, or wishing to share their retrospective look over their life-time engagement in physics (in what follows, we shall call them “physicists-witnesses”). This decision was conforming to one of the assigned tasks of the HoP section, to establish and possibly tighten the links between the communities of historians and physicists to mutual benefits. The final program of the 2010 inaugural HoP session was thus structured into groups of talks related by their content, with historians starting the session and prominent place given to Paolo Brenni, a world-known historian of scientific instruments, and physicists-witnesses closing the day.

Among the talks that were particularly appreciated, Paolo Brenni’s opening feature on instruments for scientific education received a lot of attention. Siegfried Bodenmann’s evocation of the 18th century rivalry opposing Euler, d’Alembert and Clairaut over the irregularities of the Moon was another success showing the fascination that physics history can exert on working physicists. Marc Rattcliff’s talk proved more challenging to typical members of the SPS since he discussed Abraham Trembley’s invention of his “microscope” from the point of view of the sociology of invention, insisting on social and cultural issues rather than physical (optical) ones. Among the short talks, the two interventions of Jean-François Loude and Laurence-Isaline Stahl-Gretsch, in charge of the scientific instruments collections of, respectively, Lausanne’s University and Geneva Science Museum, showed the importance of preserving, in our schools and labs, these devices which, although outdated, are important witnesses to the scientific endeavour of past generations and institutions.

Jan Lacki discussed next the short but scientifically dense life of a somewhat forgotten Swiss physicist, Walter Ritz, remembered today only for his line spectra formula which bears his name, but who was in his times one of the most promising young theoreticians recognized by such authorities as Poincaré or Einstein. Finally, the interventions of the physicists-witnesses turned out a bit mixed bag: some talks were genuinely informative (Werner Frank about Johannes de Sacrobosco, Fritz Staudacher about Jost Bürgi, and Bernhard Braunecker about Manfred von Ardenne), while others payed emotional tributes to important physicists as Jakob Jütz to his teacher, the great opticist Max Herzberger, and Klaus Stadler to his ancestor, the Nobel laureate Ferdinand Braun.

To the considerable satisfaction of the organizers, the number of people attending the inaugural HoP session was quite high, certainly above the best expectations, sometimes (first half of the session) towering at almost full room (circa 40 participants). This is even more satisfying as many young people were attending, showing that manifestly the HoP session is not only of interest to historians and retired scientists, but draws strong interest among young physicists or physics students. It will be one of the challenges of the next months to analyse the reasons of this interest and as much as possible capitalize and rely on it to promote the HoP section.

Jan Lacki, Uni Genève, SPS-HoP

Students Afternoon

We invited 25 students from gymnasiums of the region of Basel to join the meeting for one afternoon. All of them used the opportunity to get insights into their possible career as a physicist. Our committee members Urs Staub, Kai Hencken and Klaus Kirch gave interesting insights into their daily work. They explained their research interests and talked about their professional career. The students’ interest was enormous and they asked a lot of questions on physics, on a physics career and on the daily life of a physicist. Between the presentations that have been prepared especially for them, the students joined some of the presentations of the official program and last but not least they joined the poster session and take a breath of their possible future profession.

Tibor Gyalog, Uni Basel, SPS Physics Education section