19 Nov 2013
Alexander Rosu-Finsen, a second year PhD student at Heriot-Watt University, attended the 19th International Vacuum Conference in Paris from 9 - 13 September 2013. He reports:
The field of work I am interested in is experimental astrochemistry, specifically the formation of small molecules on dust grains in dense regions of the interstellar medium. As such, I work with an ultrahigh vacuum machine and look at astronomically-relevant molecules interacting with silicate and water ice surfaces mimicking the ice-coated dust grains.
During the autumn of 2013 I sent in an abstract for a conference of interest for my studies, the 19th International Vacuum Congress, IVC-19. However, at the time of applying I was in no financial state to travel and attend the meeting. I came across SCI and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and their efforts to assist PhD students attend conferences relevant not only to the student but also to the societies themselves.
The Sir Eric Rideal Travel Bursary was a good match for my field of study as the award was related to the field of colloid and surface science. I applied and was one of the lucky nine to receive a travel award which was used to cover the attendance fee.
At the conference I was given the opportunity to share my results with the scientific community. My oral presentation was titled; ‘Desorption of O2, CO and N2 from astronomically relevant surfaces’. The main point of interest in this talk was the kinetics associated with desorption of the molecules studied from interstellar dust grain analogues. The reason for this is to try to bridge the gap between observed and calculated abundances of molecules in the dense interstellar medium with modelling the gas-surface exchanges using more accurate kinetic parameters determined in the laboratory.
The molecules, O2, CO and N2, were chosen due to their abundances and importance in the formation of other molecules such as O2 in the formation of H2O. The talk was my first oral presentation as a PhD student which was a hugely interesting and rewarding experience.
Conferences such as these are great opportunities to meet other scientists and discuss various aspects of current research. After my presentation I was approached by people asking if I had considered working with different chemical compounds or using a different surface for the reactions to occur. I found these conversations very useful, enlightening and they made me think of new research avenues to investigate both from their ideas about my research, but also from asking into their current studies.
Throughout this international conference hundreds of presenters shared their research and results segregated into 15 fields ranging from applied surface science, energy and sustainable development to astronomical frontiers for surface science, astrosurf. The latter section was concerned with surface science in the astrophysical environment which is where I spent the majority of my time. At the astrosurf seminars I was introduced to the newest research and the authors behind many of the papers I have read.
The various research groups in my field have now heard of my work and I hope will contact me if they see a potential partnership between their group and mine. I expect to see many of the same scientists again at other conferences and maybe a collaboration can be set up at that time. In the future, if I was to apply for a postdoctoral position in the same research field it would likely be in a group of one of the scientists I met at the conference.
One of the things I learned is that surface science has applications in many interesting fields. I was introduced to the background knowledge of experimental techniques I was not familiar with, but I would like to learn more about them, such as microscopy techniques. Knowledge of such techniques could be a requirement for any future job and I am happy to have been informed about them at this stage of my career.
I was also lucky and happy to listen to presentations by some well-known scientists. The first plenary session of the conference was held by 2011 Nobel Laureate Prof Dan Schechtman. From this presentation I learned that persistence and belief in one's results (knowing that they are correct) play a crucial rule in success.
My entire research group was in attendance at the conference, which attracted over 2500 people. They presented their own talks and listened to mine. The other members of my group already knew many of the attending scientists present at the astronomical frontiers for surface science seminars, so they had the chance to meet them again while I met them for the first time. Besides the introductions to the scientists and the specific field of science (astrochemistry), the benefit was the same for me as for the rest of the group; the opportunity of sharing our research with the community.
Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to SCI and the RSC for the Sir Eric Rideal Travel Bursary extended to me. Without this award I would not have been able to attend.