25th Army Science Conference

Blue Gene, a massively parallel supercomputer of IBM, occupies as much space as this room [room that we were in, capable of comfortably seating over 500 people], eats about 2MW of power and does only 1015 operations per second. However, each of the human brain in this room occupies about 0.06 cubic feet of space, does 1016 operations per second and how much power do you think it consumes?

This is how the 25th Army Science Conference was kicked off by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology – needless to mention after a very colorful opening ceremony (soldiers carrying colors were dressed in 18th century uniform). As for what happened in the next 90+ hours at this conference, I am obligated not to discuss everything – owing to the very Nature of the conference. According to the Director of Research and Laboratory Management (Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology), participants’ name-tags were equipped with wireless tapping device – so, everybody had to watch what they spoke! You can always look at the title-image and let your imagination fly to guess as to what happened at the conference. However, now that the wireless tapping device has been deactivated, I think I can discuss some highlights of this conference – here are some issues that were addressed/discussed by the participants as well as organizers (which included seven Nobel Laureates, yeah SEVEN):

  1. A very complex mathematical problem – as to how Army Science Conference was in its 25th edition eventhough the first one was in 1957. It didn’t take too long, especially when there were seven brilliant minds in the audience
  2. Fountains in a garden actually resemble the ones observed in Fountain Effect
  3. People can get Nobel Prize for smoking cheap cigars
  4. People who play poker a lot can also get a Nobel Prize
  5. Person who helped develop the speed gun (yeah, the ones used by Police to get an estimate of a speeding automobile) once got a ticket for speeding but failed to convince the officer (and the judge) as to why the officer’s measurement made no sense
  6. A Nobel Laureate telling a nurse that he is a Nobel Laureate can be considered a sign of insanity
  7. The only meaningful application of Carbon Nanotube revolution is in making better baseball bats
  8. Reason for using the word Amplification (instead of Oscillation) to describe LASER in an alternate way (LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation)
  9. Diamonds are not forever (all along you were thinking otherwise, didn’t you?)
  10. and so on…

On a more serious note (not that any of the above weren’t serious enough), this conference provided a well-organized platform for folks from various branches of science and technology to interact with each other, and exchange ideas. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would meet seven nobel laureates under one roof, let alone talking to them or having a photograph taken with them. I had met couple of Nobel Laureates before (last two in the list below), on different occasions, in Bangalore – when they had given a public lecture organized by the Indian Academy of Sciences but seven of them at once, is like a jack-pot 🙂 Dr. Shashi Karna, a scientist in the Army Research Laboratory, helped a great deal by facilitating these meetings and photo-ops. Following is the list of NLs I have met so far…

  1. Dr. Charles Townes, of LASER fame, for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle (1964, Physics)
  2. Dr. Leon Cooper, of Cooper Pair fame, for the joint development theory of superconductivity, usually called the BCS-theory (1972, Physics)
  3. Dr. Leo Esaki, of Esaki Diode fame, for the experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in semiconductors (1973, Physics)
  4. Dr. Leon Lederman, for the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino (1988, Physics)
  5. Dr. David Lee, of Fountain Effect fame, for the discovery of superfluidity in Helium-3 (1996, Physics)
  6. Dr. Robert Curl Jr., of C60 fame, for the discovery of fullerenes (1996, Chemistry)
  7. Dr. John Fenn, for the development of soft desorption ionisation methods for mass spectrometric analyses of biological macromolecules (2002, Chemistry)
  8. Dr. Anthony Leggett, for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids (2003, Physics)
  9. Dr. David Gross, for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction (2004, Physics)

Quite an elite list, eh? At least I think so. Here are some pics of the conference and some of them will be cherished by yours-truly forever…

Army Science Conference, Florida

West Concourse of Orange County Convention Center – venue for the conference

Army Science Conference, Florida

Interiors of Orange County Convention Center

Army Science Conference, Florida

The General Session Hall

Army Science Conference, Florida

With (L-R) Dr. John Fenn and Dr. Leon Cooper (Picture Courtesy: Dr. Shashi Karna)

Army Science Conference, Florida

With (L-R) Dr. Leo Esaki and fellow grad student (and friend) Santosh (Picture Courtesy: Dr. Shashi Karna)

Army Science Conference, Florida

With (L-R) Dr. Robert Curl and fellow grad student (and friend) Santosh (Picture Courtesy: Dr. Govind Mallick)

Army Science Conference, Florida

With (L-R) Dr. John Parmentola, Dr. Charles Townes, Dr. Leon Cooper, Dr. David Lee, Dr. Robert Curl and Dr. John Fenn (Picture Courtesy: Dr. Shashi Karna)

Army Science Conference, Florida

Next to our poster (Picture Courtesy: Dr. Craig Friedrich)

The conference ended with another colorful event – The Awards Banquet, wherein we were informed that the conference had gone exactly according to the plan (but Plan C) and The US Army Chorale entertained the audience with some popular numbers, along with one officer reciting the Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash (read below). This event also coincided with the retiring of one of the distinguished officers – who had helped a great deal for previous three such conferences.

I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, “Your old courthouse is kinda run down.”
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town.”
I said, “Your old flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that’s a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it.”

He said, “Have a seat,” and I sat down.
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town?”
I said, “I think it is.” He said, “I don’t like to brag,
But we’re kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag.

“You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when
Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing Say Can You See.
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin’ at its seems.

“And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on though.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag.

“On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II.
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.

“She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land here she’s been abused —
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused.

“And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land.
And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in.
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.

“So we raise her up every morning, take her down every night.
We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right.
On second thought, I do like to brag,
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of the Ragged Old Flag.”

As you can imagine, I am still floating in air and the feeling of interacting with these people is yet to sink in – wonder if it will ever do so… It was also during such interactions that I learnt, on a first-hand basis, of their exemplary humility – one of them, Dr. David Lee, when we (Santosh and myself) requested for a picture with him, said “… I am just another man. I would be honored to have a photo taken with you…” This (and such others) have re-initated my interest in history of science and changed my plans for the rest of my stay in Orlando. I had some thoughts on visiting Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, etc. but they all seem rather meaningless and I will probably spend time attempting to do something more useful for the next 24+ hours… Anyway, amongst other news from the conference, this was the first time more than a handful were interested in our research work and needless to mention, the very first successful poster session. If everything works out, we may run into some fruitful collaborations in the near future with some of them.

As far as travel is concerned, journey from snow-deprived Houghton to Orlando was quite uneventful – barring an incident that required some medical attention but having over half-a-dozen medically trained passengers took care of things. I don’t expect too many surprises on the way back either – unless snow in Minneapolis/Houghton (and or *something else*) changes the flight schedule…

Update #1: These and other pictures are here

8 Replies to “25th Army Science Conference”

  1. 7 at a time is not only a jackpot…..but also

    1) an intellectual repercussion

    2) swashbuckling inspiration

    3) a reason for commemoration !!!!

    mine is 3 up

    RR Ernst (Chem), YT Lee (Chem), D Gross (Phys)

  2. Hi,
    It is indeed an honour to meet such great people and to be bestowed with such honour can come to only geniuses like you.
    your narration of the conference is just amazing.

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