6 June 2016

A fellowship of physics

Mount Holyoke College, venue for a Gordon Research Conference on two-dimensional systems. Mount Holyoke College, venue for a Gordon Research Conference on two-dimensional systems.

This week at the lab, physicist Luis Balicas and several members of his research group are presenting their latest results and learning about the recent work of colleagues in one of the most exciting areas of condensed matter science, two-dimensional systems.

At Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts, the scientists are taking part in a conference organized by The Gordon Research Conferences, a group that runs hundreds of such meetings every year to give researchers the chance to talk across disciplines about the latest results in a relaxed, isolated environment like the Berkshires.

Luis Balicas research groupLuis Balicas (second from left) and members of his research group at the conference.

The dozens of scientists and engineers in attendance are sharing their findings on two-dimensional systems like graphene, a form of carbon just one atom thick that has attracted a lot of attention from researchers hoping to develop electronic and other applications. But graphene isn't the only two-dimensional material out there, and groups like Balicas's are busy studying other two-dimensional materials featuring intriguing physical properties.

Although Balicas will give a talk this week, that's not his only reason for attending. He has brought along several graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to introduce them to experts in the field where they hope to one day make their marks.

"You have the opportunity to ask them questions, get them to know you," said Balicas, a member of the lab's Condensed Matter Science research group. "It's a networking thing, and simultaneously an opportunity to convey what you are doing."

The weeklong conference is also a very social event, featuring poster sessions and dinners, coffee breaks and discussions both formal and informal. Young scientists who have labored in relative obscurity on esoteric topics finally find an audience that appreciates what they do and can offer valuable feedback.

"It's a way for them to feel integrated in a community," said Balicas, "and to feel like they can contact senior and well-respected academics at prestigious institutions."

Text by Kristen Coyne. Photo courtesy of Luis Balicas.

Last modified on 6 June 2016