Universiteit Leiden

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Jasper's Day

Jasper Knoester is the dean of the Faculty of Science. How is he doing, what exactly does he do and what does his day look like? In each newsletter, Jasper gives an insight into his life.

Friday 12 April

‘A beautiful spring day. I am on the 8 a.m. train to Eindhoven, where I will attend the annual Fysica congress of the Netherlands’ Physical Society (NNV). A decades-old institution I've been going to since my PhD days. Every year, a different university organises this meeting. Next year it will be Leiden's turn!

The conference is intended for anyone with a background in physics, not just academics. The speakers are therefore tasked with engaging a wider audience than they are used to, which almost always gives wonderful and accessible stories. As icing on the cake, the aim is to have one of the previous year's Nobel laureates as a speaker. It's almost unbelievable, but I can't recall an occasion during the last decade when that hasn't succeeded. Which just goes to show that the international network of Dutch physicists is excellent.

For me, there is another annual tradition. During the congress, the Physica Prize is awarded, a prize established by the Physica Foundation, whose purpose is to promote the interests of physics nationwide. As president of the foundation, I am the chairman of the jury and have the pleasure of presenting the prize. This time it is awarded to Florian Schreck, professor at the UvA (University of Amsterdam). Florian is doing pioneering research on ultracold atoms, think of temperatures on the order of micro-Kelvins. The exciting field of quantum gases. He gives a wonderful talk and I realise again with great pleasure why I started studying physics in the first place.

At the end of the morning is the Young Speakers Contest, where 3 PhD candidates each have 10 minutes to explain what they are working on. The audience votes and the winner is announced at the end of the afternoon. It's a tough choice. All three are very good stories, very creatively put together, beautiful physics and engaging from head to tail. I hand in the completed voting form and head to lunch, where it is a happy reunion with many acquaintances.

I start the afternoon with a few online appointments in the large seating area of the Auditorium where the conference is taking place. After following a few more short talks, I head to the lecture by Anne l'Huillier, Nobel Prize winner in Physics 2023 for her work on generating attosecond (10-18 s) electromagnetic pulses. Obviously a great story, told with great authority from the history to the present. Since my own background is in optical spectroscopy, I can follow it all very well. My thoughts go back to the 1990s, when I saw colleagues at conferences presenting the still laborious progress in this field. How wonderful that this culminated in a Nobel Prize!

The afternoon ends with the announcement of the winner of the Young Speakers Contest, after which we walk into town for dinner. While walking, I am addressed by students from De Leidsche Flesch who also attended the meeting. Great to see! It’s exactly the point for young people to find their way to conferences and have an inspiring experience there.

During dinner I turn out to be sitting next to someone who, like me, also has a history in Groningen. Even more coincidentally, he also lives in The Hague, less than 5 minutes by bike from our address. During the ride home we have a lively conversation and contact details are exchanged. And so it turns out that this congress day delivered exactly what congresses are for: getting inspiration from good lectures, seeing old acquaintances and meeting new ones. I am already looking forward to Fysica 2025 in our own faculty.’


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