A View from the bridge - IMC 18 and beyond!

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As the leaves fall from the trees and the clocks go back, I've been gathering my thoughts and reflecting on the bumper summer of meetings we've had in 2014. Here at M&A we’ve previously reported on the MMC in Manchester and M&M meeting in Hartford CT (see September’s issue of M&A) and previewed IMC2014 in Prague in early September.

I’m sure that anyone who was at IMC 18 in Prague will agree that it was a fantastic meeting with a good mix of parallel scientific sessions, high quality plenary speakers and Czech hospitality set amongst access to rich cultural experiences and sights. The meeting attracted over 3000 people and saw 11 parallel sessions with 1742 poster presentations over 4 days. I have never experienced a poster session like it. The sessions were spread over 2 floors, with about 800 posters on 4 subject areas for each block of two days, which was quite overwhelming. Every day the organisers ran tastings of Czech beers from 6 pm onwards, which either helped the discussions to flow or stopped the poster browsing process, I'm not sure which. 

A view of the historic and beautiful Charles bridge, at midnight.

I spent a large amount of time visiting the exhibitor stands in the two trade show areas, which I will admit was a bit bewildering at first, but soon became more straightforward to navigate. The diversity of the instruments and companies displaying was good and I’m pleased to report that there were a number of non-EM exhibitors, which shows that the congress is being viewed as not just an electron microscopy event by the community. Alongside the big names (EM manufacturers, you know who I mean) there were many smaller companies, which was again pleasing to see. Many of the exhibitors ran demonstrations and reported that they had been busy for the majority of the conference. The atmosphere was friendly and excited, with attendees old and young keen to meet new people and old acquaintances.

In addition to the scientific elements of the congress, there is always a strong social programme, consisting of parties and receptions hosted by the RMS, who were celebrating their 175th anniversary and the major EM manufacturers (JEOL, Hitachi, FEI, Tescan and Zeiss). I attended an event at Zofin Palace, which was a ticketed event for about 800 people. Upon arriving, I was told there were closer to 1300 people in attendance, something which made the event an event! The food was good and the atmosphere jovial with a disco. For those who fancied a change of scenery (or perhaps needed to cool off after dancing) there was an outdoor grill with more food!

Picture from the excellent disco at the event I attended, during IMC 18

The battle for IMC 19

Of particular interest to me was the battle to host the next IMC, something that had always seemed mysterious to me. In Prague, it was a three horse race between Sydney (Australia), Busan (S. Korea) and Beijing (PRC China). On Tuesday afternoon, I attended the presentations and listened to the pitches, videos. There was also the opportunity for the audience to ask questions to the delegations, and I even asked one to the Australian delegation myself!

Busan was the first to present and they  were quick to highlight that the venue was on the coast, with a good beach, had a nearby shopping district and good transport links from Seoul. There was also mention of funding from industry and cultural elements that would be of interest beyond the science. Immediate concerns were raised over the timing of the Korean meeting (mid October) and that finances were heavily dependent on delegate registrations. Overall, I thought the pitch to be sound, but not overwhelming and I was keen to hear what China had to say.

Next was the Beijing bid who offered the attendees of the meeting a chance to visit the Birds Nest Stadium and dangled the carrot of 'many cheap five star hotels' established as the legacy from the 2008 Olympics. The opening slides of the pitch made much of the 2000 members of the Chinese microscopy community and of the fact that there are 20 Cs corrected TEMs in China. The introduction focused heavily on these points and that there were many scientists and engineers using electron microscopy, however, there seemed to be no mention of any other type of microscopy. For me this was something I'd be concerned about if I was one of the voting delegates, representing a federation or society. There was also the admission that there was no funding from government to support the event, something that seemed to be a point of some embarrassment on the chairman’s part. Both Busan and Beijing offered a chance to go to Asia, (without the meeting returning to Japan) and the Beijing chairman made much of the fact that they had bid unsuccessfully on four previous occasions. For me the bid was insubstantial and although no-one asked, I was concerned about visas to visit China and additional cost for attendees.

Finally, it was the turn of the Australians to offer their view of IMC 19. A significant part of any bid seems to be what the organisers will do for students and early career researchers, and here the Sydney delegation shone with a package of sponsorship (for around 100 students), a pre-congress school for those receiving scholarships and also a post-congress meeting for a small group of early career leaders, where they would receive training in IP protection and leadership skills for future research leaders etc. There seemed good support from the New-South Wales government to the tune of AUS $250,000 and a newly built meeting venue for the congress itself, including technology for E-posters (to replace our current paper versions), something I've been itching to try out for ages. The Sydney delegation was also keen to point out that registration would include lunch for the duration of the meeting, a small but significant point when budgeting! They also mentioned visas, which neither of their competitors had. I was most impressed by the Sydney bid, which seemed to be the most comprehensive and well thought out.

Following the pitches, there was much discussion amongst the conference attendees about the relative merits of the venues, facilities and other concerns for attendees to IMC 19. Two days later, in a closed session, the bidding counties had 5 minutes to make a final stand and address any concerns or questions. After a round of voting I'm told the votes were 46 for Sydney, 17 for Beijing and 9 for Busan, meaning they Sydney was the outright winner without the need for second round of votes. With the next venue selected, the last day of posters over and the exhibition breaking-down, there was a conference banquet to look forward to for many of the delegates. Although I didn’t attend, I’m told the event was spectacular, being held at the Municipal House in central Prague.

Looking toward the future

The final day saw 4 plenary lectures and the close of the congress, including presentation of the new IFSEM President Kazuo Furuya, from Japan, (Barry Carter will move to vice-president) and Pavel Hozak (chair of IMC 18 organising committee) gave many facts and figures on the meeting. Overall, it was a fabulous IMC and I left feeling simultaneously exhausted and inspired by the week and the promise of the future of microscopy. 

Kazuo Furuya making his acceptance speech as President elect.at the closing ceremony on Friday morning.

The winners of the IMC19 bid thank the IMC 18 organisers and the IFSM presidents and vice-president.

Be prepared for a few upcoming blogs about some of the hottest topics that were discussed and key new pieces of kit that were unveiled over the summer. For now, check out our editorial section of the website, video interviews and be sure to check out the new edition of M&A in November, which should be hitting your coffee table in about a week!

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