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Virtual Summer Colloquium

Bringing people together scientifically in the era of social distancing.

By Ellen Eckert

A few years ago, the Physics Graduate Students’ Association set up a Summer Colloquium series, primarily oriented towards graduate and undergraduate summer students.

The Physics Summer Colloquium was designed to inform students of the wide variety of research that is performed at the University of Toronto’s Department of Physics. Because of this particular focus, the Summer Colloquium has always been somewhat unique. However, it was quickly apparent that, due to COVID-19, this year’s series would be very different from previous years. Nevertheless, there was consensus that now, more than ever, it was important to bring people together, spark curiosity, and inspire future graduate students.

Chair of the Department Professor Kimberly Strong reached out in a call for volunteers and within a few days the organizing committee was formed: Assistant Professors Miriam Diamond and Nikolina Ilic, Professor John Sipe, postdoctoral fellow Ellen Eckert and graduate students Milica Banic, Ahmed Rayyan and Sreekar Voleti. Logistically and technically they were supported by staff members Joanafel Magnaye, Lilian Leung, Pius Santiago and Sheela Manek.

The 2020 Physics Summer Colloquium was entirely virtual and thus it came with new challenges for the speakers, the technical staff, and the organizing committee. So it also served as a pilot to pave the way for the changes needed for the regular Physics Colloquium series and brought valuable insight into the dos and dont's of hosting a series of virtual talks.

Zoom was selected as the platform of choice. The talks would be about 30 minutes long and they would be recorded with the speaker’s permission to be made available through the colloquium website. All talks would be announced via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram featuring an image related to the talk. Only a week after the first committee meeting, the first talk of the Summer Colloquium series took place, with several more planned. Interest in the talks was reflected in strong attendances of up to 90, interesting and interactive Q&A sessions and undergraduate students reaching out to inquire about graduate work opportunities. The committee was genuinely pleased with how things came along and the wide variety of talks that were hosted.

Physics on large and very small scales

Development of CHORD: the Canadian Hydrogen Observatory and Radio-transient Detector
Development of CHORD: the Canadian Hydrogen Observatory and Radio-transient Detector.
Do qubits dream of entangled sheep?

Thirteen speakers drawing from graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research associates and professors in our Department presented excellent talks on their research areas. The list of speakers is:

● Enze Zhang “SuperCDMS SNOLAB Experiment

● Prof. Anton Zilman “Biophysics of COVID-19

● Prof. Nikolina Ilic “The Dune Experiment: Physics Research and Progress on Prototyping

● Prof. R.J. Dwayne Miller “Mapping Atomic Motions with Ultrabright Electrons: Fundamental Space-Time Limits to Imaging Matter in Action

● Vincent MacKay “Development of CHORD: the Canadian Hydrogen Observatory and Radio-transient Detector

● Sreekar Voleti “Multipolar Magnetism: A Detective Story

● Dr. Aharon Brodutch “Do qubits dream of entangled sheep?

● Mohamed Shaaban “SuperBIT: A diffraction-limited to near-ultraviolet wide-field balloon-borne observatory

● Josiah Sinclair “Measuring the time atoms spend in the excited state due to a photon they don’t absorb

● Prof. R.J Dwayne Miller “From Basic Science to Star Trek Surgery: Achieving the Fundamental (Single Cell) Limits to Minimally Invasive Surgery and Biodiagnostics

● Dr. Patrick E. Sheese “17 years of monitoring the atmosphere with the ACE-FTS satellite instrument

● Prof. Nikolina Ilic “The ATLAS Detector and Recent Physics Results

● Mikhail Schee “Internal Waves in the Arctic Ocean

Adjustments were made over the summer to find the right methodology. Security was increased and the advertising changed after an unfortunate “Zoom bombing” occurred when a malicious party took over control of the seminar to stream disruptive content. The committee took measures to prevent these kinds of incidents in the future, with great support from the Department of Physics and technical staff. At the end of the summer, the online Summer Colloquium experience provided valuable feedback to the Department on how to host future virtual colloquia.

Paving the way isn’t always easy, but the learning process can be quite rewarding, especially when working in a great team of organizers, speakers, and staff. The committee would particularly like to thank all of the speakers who kindly volunteered and presented their intriguing research at the 2020 virtual Physics Summer Colloquium.