CAPS 2016: Glasgow

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photo credit: Christy Nunns. Conference delegates!

The first day of the Conference of Astronomy and Physics Students (CAPS), Friday the 24th June, was a bittersweet affair. As the dire results of the EU referendum were announced, a 140-odd group of young, eager scientists was left feeling sombre and disappointed for reasons I need not name. It really is impossible to think of a better way to kick off a science conference…

But I am here to write about my otherwise cheerful experience at CAPS in Glasgow, rather than about the currently exigent state of the British economy.

I have never been to Glasgow, therefore already upon arrival I was astounded by the amount of historic architecture towering above the city streets. The university itself was no less impressive than the town centre, and I only wonder why on earth I chose to go to a university like Warwick, with so little culture in comparison!

The conference consisted of 10 student lectures which spanned the entire range of physics at every imaginable level: SHM experiments, quantum measurement, physics of the human ear, and even some talk about 17 x 17 matrices…. *shudder*. As well as these, there were guest lecturers giving presentations on the likes of black holes, dark matter, and single pixel quantum cameras from the QUANTIC group. You read that right. Quantum has the potential to do some amazing things.

Though I have only been to a few, what I love about these kind of student conferences are all the like-minded people you meet and keep in touch with for years afterwards. You might just become research collaborators in the future, thus networking at these events is ever so important! These conferences have already allowed me to travel round the UK a little more; my first ever CAPS at St. Andrew’s in ’14 was also my first ever visit to Scotland!

And I just love the variety of science that is presented, all at a level which is (usually!) pitched just right for the audience. Undoubtedly, some presenters will be at different stages of their study or career and will thus give a less, or more, technical talk which can so easily be far too complicated. I confess, it is so easy to switch off as soon as your mind is distracted, and missing one minute of the presentation might make it impossible to find your way in again. But listening and presenting is all simply a matter of learning and practicing, and what better way to learn than to try it out in front of an audience of an equal level to yourself? If you manage to give a flawless presentation and engage your listeners from the first to the last second – great news, do it again at a bigger conference! If everything goes pear-shaped – great news, nobody will ever hold the mistake against you and hopefully it will not happen again the next time round.

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What stands out to me as a highlight to the conference was the visit to the Glasgow Science Centre, where we had the opportunity to try on virtual reality goggles and experience a planetarium – the first time for me! As you come to the end of your degree, you might find that your original passion the subject has waned overtime, and that you require some sort of spark to reignite it. For me, this planetarium did just that. I was left feeling excited again about learning about how the world works and the microscopic speck of dust that we, humans on Earth, are in the grand scheme of the entire universe. This humbling, unifying feeling of overwhelm was so vital at a time of political turmoil and divide. Because in order to achieve great things, humanity should cooperate – not divide and conquer against one another.

Another unifying part of the conference was the conference dinner at the Hilton, where Haggis (plus a veggie version of it!) and a ceidlih were the honorary guests. A lot of dancing ensued to shake away the recent events – which, I will not hide, have cast a shadow to leave me feeling trodden and unable to appreciate the fact that I am graduating with a good grade. I question the sense of pursuing a PhD in a country where approximately 51.9% of those eligible to vote do not accept my presence here.

But once again I digress, and before I venture further into the dark depths of my mind, I should finish on a note of congratulations to the organising CAPS committee, which have done a fantastic job of the event! CAPS is one of those markers that signify the end of an academic year; meaning that my job as the Institute of Physics University Student Network secretary is slowly coming to an end….

Many things may not have gone to plan, but the situation was rescued successfully every single time – for example, when various committee members quickly whipped up some entertaining talks about ‘The Science Of Interstellar / The Martian / Harry Potter’!

This year’s CAPS is certainly a tough act to follow, but I have no doubt that next year’s hosts will give it a cracking go and pull off yet another successful event!

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A (terrible quality) snap from the Planetarium. Here we can see our universe as a light cone.

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