The APS April meeting was in May. Is that an indicator for climate change? I squeezed in the trip to Denver, as previously mentioned, to give a talk about 'Phenomenological Quantum Gravity' and to be on a panel discussion about women and minorities in physics. The meeting took place at the Sheraton Downtown Denver - not exactly the class of hotels I usually stay in. It's the kind of place with guys in fancy uniforms at the entrance that insist on taking your bag, and with an army of service personnel that probably help you with anything your heart desires to make your stay more pleasant - if you speak Spanish. The room had a huge LCD screen. But no mini-bar. Maybe I shouldn't have used the groupcode from the APS meeting.
The plenary session on Tuesday morning was quite interesting. First thing in the morning, Paris Sphicas gave a short pep-talk on LHC physics and the current schedule. However, I think you are better up-to-date by reading Peter's blog. Sphicas further talked about some early data analysis that had been done with cosmic rays and from last year's first cycling of the beam. What I gathered is that the detectors work well and everybody is excited about moving on.
The next talk was by James Cronin, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1980 (for the co-discovery of CP violation in the kaon system). He talked about the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory and new data that they had (some of which he apparently wasn't supposed to show). It seems that with more events and better statistics the correlation between active galactic nuclei and the sources of cosmic rays - on which I reported here and more details here - has become weaker, and the distribution of cosmic rays looks more isotropic now than with the first measurements.
The last plenary talk of the day was by Raymond Fonck about progress in understanding and managing plasma turbulences and the ITER project. I think it is one of the most relevant topics in physics one can presently work on. Power generation from nuclear fusion has the potential to become the energy supply of the future. However, even if we finally manage to deal with it, it will take too long to make the technique practicable to help us with the energy problems we are currently facing, so it's certainly not the only thing we should be doing.
The session in the afternoon that I was speaking in was chaired by Vicky Kalogera from Northwestern University. The first talk was by Andrea Lommen who spoke about detecting gravitational waves with pulsars. The idea is that the signals received from pulsars have a reasonably precise timing over many years, and distortions of the background geometry through gravitational waves - generated eg by a nearby black hole merger - might affect that timing and become measurable. I was distracted and quite impressed by her body language, wondering where one can take a class to dance the figure of the rotating pulsar. It turned out later she had previously been a professional dancer.
My talk was a brief summary of various ways to approach the challenging problem of measuring effects of quantum gravity. While I didn't have time to go into details I hope I managed to provide a sense of how the field is developing. The questions afterwards were really interesting. Even though it wasn't content of my talk, we were discussing Craig Hogan's "Holographic Noise" for a bit, and I was relieved to hear that the audience seemed to share my scepticism (see earlier post for details).
The last talk in the session was by Steve McGuire about material science in the LIGO experiment, followed by a panel discussion in which the three speakers introduced themselves and we spoke for a while about our different experiences with making our ways in science, then taking some questions from the audience. It was both more interesting and more useful than I was afraid it would be, for discussions about minority questions have a tendency to heat up quickly. Instead, it was a very constructive exchange that showed there are many different paths one can take and options one can use and that after all what matters is your dedication to your work and how much you love science. It's good to be reminded of that occasionally and I am glad I went to the meeting.