Sunday, March 04, 2012

March Meeting last day and wrap-up

Not too much to report from the final day of the March Meeting. Lots of good conversations with colleagues, though I never did get a chance to sit down with a couple of folks I'd wanted to see. Ahh well.

I split most of my time between two invited sessions. The first of these was on the unusual properties of the nu=5/2 fractional quantum Hall state. This may sound very narrow and esoteric, but it is actually quite profound. A good review of the whole topic in more generality is here. At a very particular value of perpendicular magnetic field (related to the number of charge carriers per square centimeter), the electrons in a 2d layer in GaAs/AlGaAs semiconductor structures apparently condense into a really weird state. The lowest energy excitations of this state, its quasiparticles, have very strange properties. First, they have an effective electronic charge of 1/4 e. Second, when two of these fractionally charged quasiparticles are moved around each other to swap positions, the whole quantum mechanical state of the system changes (to another state with the same energy as the original), in a way much more complex than just picking up a phase factor (which would be -1 if the quasiparticles acted like ordinary electrons). Somehow the detailed history of winding the particles around each other is supposedly encoded in the many-body state itself. Quasiparticles with this bizarre property are said to obey "non-Abelian statistics". To date, there has not been an experimental "smoking gun" demonstrating these weird properties unambiguously. My postdoc mentor, Bob Willett, gave a very data-heavy talk showing persuasive evidence for consistency with a number of the relevant theory predictions in this system. Following him, Woowon Kang of the University of Chicago showed other data that also looks consistent with some of these ideas (though I'm no expert).

The other invited session dealt with the theory behind the transport of electrons and ions in nanoscale systems. Unfortunately I missed the beginning (since I was seeing the other talks above), but I did get to hear a neat discussion by Kirk Bevan of McGill University about the physics of electromigration. Electromigration is the mechanism by which flowing electrons can scatter off defects and grain boundaries, dumping momentum into atoms and pushing them around.

Final suggestions for the APS:
1) Don't have the small rooms arranged so that getting to seats in the front requires blocking the projector. The result of that is that the front 6 rows or so remain almost completely empty, while people pile up in the back of the rooms.

2) Would it really be that hard to have wireless internet access that doesn't suck? Are there no convention centers that can really support this?

3) Having a big bio presence at the meeting and then scheduling it directly opposite the Biophysical Society meeting seems odd.

4) Every year, there is an electronic letter-writing or petition campaign to support federal funding of research. That's fine and dandy, but is there any way we could try to get some representative Congress-critters to come hear a session, perhaps one of the fun, general invited sessions, or one about industrially relevant research? Remember, next year in Baltimore is quite close to DC....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

#2: Use a smartphone or wireless USB stick with 4g access. As an added bonus, you will never have to pay 20 bucks to use the internet for one night ever again.