The Nanoscience Center of the University of Jyväskylä is hosting its traditional international Nanoscience Days. This year, however, this leading conference on nanoscience and nanotechnology will take place online. Organising this online conference has taken a lot of effort, and we hope that it can serve as a pioneering example to other scientific online events, says the event’s chairperson, Tuomas Puurtinen from the University of Jyväskylä. According to him, researchers in the multidisciplinary field of nanoscience have lacked an online forum, and the conference is an attempt to remedy this deficit.

The decision to arrange the conference online was made in mid-June after quick consideration, in line with the University’s restrictions due to the coronavirus. We had a strong desire to arrange this important annual meeting of nanoresearchers, but the organising committee had no prior experience of arranging a scientific conference online, Tuomas Puurtinen says.

“The Nanoscience Days have traditionally offered a venue for sharing thoughts between different fields about research findings made in nanoscience,” Puurtinen explains. “It has brought together top scientists as well as promising young researchers of this field to learn from each other and tell about their own research. We find multidisciplinary discussion as an important part of nanoresearch and wanted to arrange this opportunity in this year as well.”

The event is organised now for the 16th time and it gathers nanoresearchers and students from the respective fields of nanobiology, nanophysics and nanochemistry.

The key topics of this year pertain to nanomaterials, qubits, quantum sensors, and DNA-related biotechnological applications.

There will be online lectures by ten top scientists from different fields of research, including Andreas Plückthun (University of Zurich), designer of biomedical proteins; Mikko Möttönen (Aalto University, VTT)), developer superconductive components for quantum computers; and Jana Zaumseil (University of Heidelberg), whose research investigates novel organic nanomaterials. Professor Mikko Möttönen with his team have managed to develop a new kind of fast bolometer suitable for measuring qubits in a quantum computer, according to research published in Nature.

Creative technology for the online conference: poster event with the buzz of a live seminar

The Nanoscience Center is organising the online seminar in collaboration with the Digital Services and congress experts of the University of Jyväskylä.

The conference is taking place by means of Zoom Webinar online meeting service and the Kongressi event management system. For visitors, the programme looks like this:

Five main presentations on both days. The audience can comment briefly on these in chat or by using a microphone. After some main presentations, young researchers have a chance to present the results of their own research related to the topic.

The opening day ends with a two-hour poster session.

“The online poster session is our biggest innovation with respect to the technical implementation of the event. We are looking to recreate the buzzing atmosphere similar to that of poster sessions at traditional scientific conferences.

“Each presenter sets up a specific Zoom online meeting to display the poster,” Puurtinen explains. “Participants can visit and watch the poster presentations and discuss with the presenter. By means of the Kongressi system, the online meeting links can be integrated directly to the book of abstracts, so that visitors can quickly and easily move from one presentation to another.”

Puurtinen says the organisers seek to guarantee visitors a conference experience that is as user-friendly as possible.

The arrangements have provided lessons for the further development of the congress system

The arrangements have given important hints for the further development of our congress system, says congress expert Taru-Maija Heilala-Rasimov from the University of Jyväskylä.

We have received valuable lessons about the requirements of online seminars, such as how poster sessions and related online portals need to be set up.

“We have been able to report several wishes and improvement suggestions to the system supplier,” Heilala-Rasimov says. “In connection with preparations for this event, essential new features to serve online events have been added to the Kongressi system, ones which benefit all users.”

The annual event has been previously been marketed widely in other events of this field. This year many of those events were cancelled, so marketing in these situations became impossible. That meant marketing was also done on short notice.

Online meetings as a fix for researcher’s work under the changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic

In the coronavirus era, many researchers have noticed how much they were used to face-to-face discussions at work.

“Video meetings have been common for a decade already, but now that all interaction takes place by video meetings, much is lost from human contact,” says Puurtinen. “A virtual interpersonal contact is not yet a realistic enough experience.”

“In researcher’s work, trust and personal relations between cooperation partners are important and such things cannot originate from video meetings, at least not when cameras and microphones are switched off.”

Tuomas Puurtinen and Lotta-Riina Sundberg are organizing conference from the University of Jyväskylä’s Nanoscience Center.

On the other hand, video meetings make sharing information easier and save travelling time. The organisers are now waiting excitedly to see how big an audience the new online conference will attract and how successfully it will meet the participants’ expectations. Last year the conference had  250 visitors in Jyväskylä. The online conference has room for a bigger audience than what could be offered on the spot.

“The first obstacle for the coverage might arise from software licence restrictions regarding the number of users,” Puurtinen says. “We will see whether we need to extend these further.”

Check the conference programme and register on 4th of October at latest: http://jyu.fi/nsd

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