Last week (24.9-28.9) was the German Astronomical Society Meeting in Hamburg . It was done in conjunction with the 100th birthday of the observatory near Hamburg (Bergedorf).
This was my first time at such a meeting in Germany. I had been to plenty of AAS (the American version) meetings before with all that it entailed: from the eager first year in 2003 where I knew nobody, attended every session and complained that there was just too much to see to this year where I sat at a table at the entrance with friends, waved people I knew over to talk to them or schedule drinks for later in the evening and “complain” that there are so many grad students around. I was eager to compare and make friends this side of the pond.
The session that was most relevant to my interests concerned the new instrumentation being developed for the VLT. MUSE is part of 3 large instruments that are being installed at the VLT in the next year months along with KMOS and SPHERE, so the organizers of the conference thought it would be relevant to present these instruments and other new things (e.g. improvements to the interferometer) in a large sessions to the German community. As such, I did not attend that many science sessions outside of these, the one about ALMA being the exception which was very nice.
Overall, I can’t tell you that much about the science. A lot of the highlights I already knew – Sandy Faber (Karl Schwarzschild Medal) works in my field of galaxy evolution, Cecilia Scannapieco (Biermann price) works at my institute, so I know of her work. I used to work at IPAC, of which the Herschel Science Center is a part of, albeit in the US, but a lot of science highlights from Herschel were well known, too. So, if you pay attention to your field and the press releases, most of the things at these meetings are already within your scientific knowledge. Oh well, but you’re not going to such a general meeting for that, anyway. The main thing is to see people, network and get a sense of how astronomy is going in general in the country. So it was actually two sessions I attended that had nothing to do with astronomy that were quite interesting.
The first was the workshop of the Astro-Frauen-Netzwerk which is intended to be Germany’s version of the “AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy“. It featured a really nice presentation on continuing work by J. Fohlmeister on “Career situation of female astronomers in Germany” (Arxiv link), now with more representative surveys also of german men and of scientist (men and women) in the UK. Some highlights of the talk that I took home, because they stood out so much, were how german men kind of stood out with regards to the other three groups (german women, uk women, uk men). I am paraphrasing, but german men hardly found their jobs on the internet (while the other groups did) and they saw opportunities and experienced career growth when they had children (while the other groups saw childbearing as a burden). As for the rest of the workshop, I could wax poetic about matters concerning female german astronomers, but I think it doesn’t fit the scope of this blog. Let’s just say that I see these groups as an opportunity to network and help each other. I was shocked to hear that other male astronomers have problems with such a network even existing (insert appalled emoticon here!).
The second was the general meeting of the members of the German Astronomical Society. It was almost sweet how lovingly and serious everybody took their task and I appreciate all the hard work the board does. So even though this long session had nothing to do with astronomy it was interesting observing the apparent hierarchies within the society.
The last highlight was the conference dinner at the observatory in Bergedorf where they were celebrating their 100 year existence. The dinner experience was well thought out in that you passed various stations of starters, grill, cocktails until you at long last gathered in the library for coffee and dessert. That way, you visited the main stations of the observatory without missing interesting dinner conversations. At the library there was a long speech given by Prof. Dieter Reimers (now retired) explaining the history of the observatory. It was a well done speech interjecting lots of personal anecdotes and funny facts and I was surprised that 45 minutes of the speech had passed so quickly. Overall, an excellent evening and I am happy that I finally visited that observatory.
Lastly I have to mention two things that weren’t so great, but for which the organizers had little wiggle room or fault:
a) The ESO deadline was early on Thursday along with the NOAO deadline on Friday. This made me miss lots of sessions and I was stuck at the hotel writing and reading proposals rather than attending social events.
b) The weather was quite bad, it probably rained for most of the conference. I could sneak away early on Friday to buy toys for my daughter (a boat and a compass, of course) and it was the only morning where it wasn’t pouring. The image at the top of this post was taken at that time. I had been in Hamburg before, but if you ever find yourself there a harbor tour is definitely a must!
If I can, I would gladly attend the conference next year in Tübingen!