Creative solution – SmallTalk on Zoom

In June, Wolfgang Meier (left) and Christian Schönenberger (right) had the opportunity to personally award the prize for best poster to Dominik Lüthi, and the prize for best talk to Timon Baltisberger.

The Swiss Nanoscience Institute’s first ever virtual conference was held on May 13. As in previous years, students from the nanoscience program organized the
“SmallTalk” conference, in which they reported on two block courses they had attended. However, as the customary large-scale event at the Center for Pharmaceutical Sciences was out of the question this year, “SmallTalk” went virtual instead.

Seven nanoscience students at the University of Basel are currently approaching the end of their bachelor’s degree program. Over the last year, they have attended eight different block courses, providing them with a glimpse into the work being done by various research groups. Each year, the students conclude this exciting period in their studies by organizing the “SmallTalk” one-day conference, in which they give a talk on one of the block courses they attended and present a poster on another. The presentations are assessed by some of the researchers offering the block courses.

The event, which is open to anyone interested in attending, is normally held at the Center for Pharmaceutical Sciences. That was not an option this year, however, and the only way for “SmallTalk” to take place at all was as a virtual conference.

Accordingly, on May 13, the seven speakers and seven assessors logged into a Zoom meeting followed by a poster session. The presentations covered topics including various applications of lithography, spectroscopy, atomic force and scanning electron microscopy, interference experiments, ultracold atoms and circuit elements inspired by nerve cells.

“Everything went very well, and we were treated to some exciting and varied presentations,” says Professor Wolfgang Meier, head of the nanoscience program, reporting on the SNI’s first virtual conference. “During a small apero-to-go, we presented the prizes for best talk and best poster to Timon Baltisberger and Dominik Lüthi in person, and caught up on some discussions.”

Program coordinator Dr. Anja Car is equally positive about the event: “I especially liked the way in which the students made the most of the online platform. Timon Baltisberger, for instance, gave us a striking demonstration of something that is possible in quantum systems but not in the macro world we inhabit.” At the start of his talk, it looked like Timon was both giving a presentation and fetching a cup of tea at the same time – an allusion to the phenomenon of superposition, whereby a quantum system can exist in multiple states at once.