The 33rd International Conference for Physics Students

Credit: Miika Kosloff

The 33rd International Conference for Physics Students (ICPS) was held in Helsinki, Finland from 8 – 14 August. The conference brought together 357 students from almost 45 different countries, and as always, it was jam-packed with lectures, lab tours, excursions, workshops, and much, much more. The theme this year was particularly potent: changing environments. The topic was difficult to ignore, given that the temperature was above 25 °C for most of the week, when it was expected to be around 15 °C (or less).

We were also in for a special treat, for the International Conference for Physics Alumni (ICPA) was born, an idea that was several years in the making. This meant that anyone who had ever been to ICPS before could return, even if they were no longer a student. ICPA ran alongside ICPS, some events different, others overlapping; in all this proved to be invaluable as the students could meet with the Alumni, network, and discuss future career ideas.

Credit: Sasu Karttunen

During the welcome ceremony, it was revealed that there was a notable Alumni present, Antti Lauri, who also gave a talk on science communication later in the week. Antti not only attended the last ICPS held in Helsinki in 1999, but was also the Chairman of the organising committee. ICPS has definitely grown a lot since then (~400 versus ~250 students), but it was still amazing to discover that more than 80 volunteers were involved with this year’s event (and what a fantastic job they all did!). After introductions by both the ICPS committee and IAPS (International Association for Physics Students; the body behind ICPS – you can find out more about the IAPS events in their annual journal jIAPS), we were welcomed by Professor Kaarle Hämeri, the Chancellor of the University of Helsinki. He gave a talk on the health effects of aerosols in cities and buildings.

Credit: Tuukka Mattlar

Throughout the week the conference was held at three different campuses around Helsinki. The first location was at the Kumpula Campus, where we had a plenary talk given by Professor Markku Kulmala, who looks at atmospheric particulates and the interactions between ecosystems and the atmosphere. When asked what can we do as individuals to help prevent global warming he answered: “Consume less; have meetings online instead of travelling; and plant trees,” – he himself has planted more than 100,000. A wide range of tours were available at Kumpula ranging from an accelerator laboratory to seismology to meteorology to nanoparticles.

We explored Helsinki in the afternoon; in groups we travelled to various locations around the city completing various challenges, each one organised by a different guild (similar to societies). We then headed to the City Hall where we were welcomed by a Deputy Mayor. We immediately felt so at home in Helsinki, with many already thinking that they want to go and study there in the future. That evening was the costume party, the clear winner was the Finnish Summer, by Ágica Kis-Tóth from Hungary.

The second day we were located at Otaniemi campus, with a choice of workshops to attend. I organised a workshop on outreach and science communication, where we focused on what science communication actually is and why it’s important (for example, can it help to combat ‘fake’ news). The evening event was a night to remember, known as sitsit. It is a traditional Finnish event, where everyone sits down to a meal with plenty of food, drink, and singing. There are many rules which must be abided by, for example, one cannot consume anything whilst the toast or song master is speaking, or when everyone is in song. All in all it was a wonderful night, regardless of how terrible we were at singing in Finnish. 

Credit: Sasu Karttunen

The rest of the week passed by very quickly. Students had the opportunity to present talks in sessions including astrophysics, quantum phenomena, medical physics, particle physics, and more. Dr Kate Shaw gave an inspirational talk about particle physics and the goings on at CERN, and what future mysteries we face as the scientists of the future. There was also a physics fair, a poster session, a sauna night, national evening (everyone has the opportunity to taste delicacies from all over the world), excursions (to either the national park, observatory, sea fortress, archipelagos, or the zoo), and an optional trip to Tallinn, Estonia, as an extra day at the end.

By the end of the week we were all exhausted and sad to return home. ICPS 2018 will undoubtedly remain an unforgettable experience for all those who attended. If you are a physics student, save the date for ICPS 2019 which will be in Cologne from 10 – 17 August. And for ICPS 2020, which will be will be held in Puebla, Mexico. Since ICPS began in 1986, this is the first time ICPS will be held outside of Eurasia!

Hannah Dalgleish

Hannah is a PhD student in Astrophysics at Liverpool John Moores University.

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