Why conferences are essential for academics AND entrepreneurs

Attending conferences is arguably the most important way for academics to share their research. 

Although publishing journal articles is the more formal, measured route to dissemination, conferences provide an arena for the sharing and discussion of research that is simply not possible with printed material. 

This applies equally to academic entrepreneurs such as myself. As a supplier of scientific products and services, such events are invaluable for learning more about current research, discovering upcoming areas of interest and meeting potential customers.

In fact attending a conference as an entrepreneur is pretty similar to attending as an academic, so the experience in many senses felt familiar to me. In either guise, the aim is to share something new, that you’re passionate about and to gain approval from your peers, or in case of business, your potential customers. 

The fresh challenge for me attending this time as an entrepreneur, however, was how to do that without putting people off?

Rainbow under the Eiger - our view from outside the seminar room

Rainbow under the Eiger - our view from outside the seminar room

My first conference was International Scanning Probe Microscopy (ISPM2016) held in the Swiss alpine resort of Grindelwald, in the shadow of the impressive Eiger.  The conference brought together academics and industry from across the world, many of whom are pioneers of the early days of SPM and AFM.

Indeed the opening afternoon saw an enthralling keynote from Christoph Gerber (co-inventor of the atomic force microscope) and an entertaining talk from Virgil Elings, formerly of Digital Instruments. 

It struck me that ISPM is a favourite conference for many of the “old guard”, which meant that I learnt a lot about how the field of SPM has evolved over it’s 30-year lifetime and the comings, goings and acquisitions of the numerous companies involved in this industry.

Poster sessions offered a great opportunity to open conversations with people.  I found discussing their work first to be a great ice breaker, allowing me to learn more about their research and their likely requirements when it comes to AFM probes. 

Likewise, ensuring I sat next to people I’d not met before at the dinner table provided the perfect opportunity for laid back discussion of each others work.   

Without a doubt though, the best conversations are always to be had over a beer or two in the hotel bar at the end of the day!

All in all, ISPM 2016, superbly organised by Georg Fantner and his team from EPFL in Lausanne, was a great introductory conference for NuNano.  Looking to forward to the next installment in Kyoto!

The exhibition at ISPM 2016

The exhibition at ISPM 2016

My second conference was the Royal Microscopical Society SPM meeting held at the University of Warwick.  This immediately felt different to ISPM, with many more junior researchers in attendance and also presenting. 

Highlights included two interesting talks from Peter Beton’s group at the University of Nottingham, whose images of supramolecular assemblies are a great example of the high resolution obtainable with AFM. 

In addition, members of Jamie Hobb’s SPM group at the University of Sheffield underlined the breadth of applications that AFM can be employed for, with work ranging from polymer deformation to imaging of live bacteria.  It was also great to catch up with several former University of Bristol colleagues who have gone on to work for AFM instrument manufacturers.

The biggest highlight for me personally, however, was that this was the first time I saw research presented that included AFM images acquired using NuNano’s new silicon AFM probes.

It was, as you can imagine, a proud moment indeed.  In fact, nothing quite compares to the feeling of knowing that something I've made is helping scientists undertake their research... Now that is seriously motivating!



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