Fall 2019 > Intellectual Hub

Gordon Research Conferences 2019

The conference of “Topological and Correlated Matter” was attended by 200 participants.

This summer was another banner season for the annual Gordon Research Conferences (GRC) held at the IAS. Around 1,000 local and international scholars gathered to engage in intense discussions and presentations of their recent discoveries.

Two new topics were introduced to this year’s GRC: “Heterogeneous Materials” and “Urbanization, Water and Food Security”. Multidisciplinary research on heterogeneous materials has been growing rapidly. A large number of natural and synthetic heterogeneous materials are now widely used in both structural and functional components of various devices. This GRC helped to disseminate research results in this field to the academic community, which will benefit diverse researchers and scientists. The second new topic, “Urbanization, Water and Food Security,” focused on one of the world’s most pressing issues. The GRC provided a transdisciplinary forum for environmental and agricultural biologists, chemists, engineers, health scientists and researchers from other disciplines to advance understanding of and discuss management strategies to promote integrative approaches to water and food security associated with urbanization.

Some of the topics, such as “Topological and Correlated Matter” received overwhelming responses. Prof. DAI Xi, Chair Professor of Physics and IAS Senior Fellow, was one of the Vice-Chairs of this conference. He explained why this GRC drew such a crowd.

“Most of the ‘unknown part’ of condensed matter physics is related to either ‘topological’ or ‘correlated’ matter. Although in recent years there have been many conferences in related fields, I think the GRC is still the most ‘elite’ one, attracting top scientists and pioneers to share their latest findings and insights with the participants. The GRC provided an ideal platform for local faculty, postdocs and researchers to exchange ideas and explore collaborative research opportunities with leading scientists across the world. Taking my research group as an example, we have decided to work with a research team from Princeton University that attended the GRC this year on the microscopic theory of orbital ferromagnetism in twisted graphene systems.”

Dai added, “The chairs of this GRC, Prof. Vic LAW Kam-Tuen, Dr. Tai-chin Lo Associate Professor of Science from HKUST, and Prof. Ali YAZDANI from Princeton University, did an excellent job in selecting the best speakers and putting together a flawless program. Many conferees expressed that they were impressed by the high quality of the meeting.”

The GRC is famous for fostering new ideas and the free exchange of fledgling theories and unpublished research. It is rated as a premier scientific forum by many, including Prof. ZENG Qinglu, Associate Professor of Ocean Science and of Life Science at HKUST, who also chaired this year’s GRC on Marine Molecular Ecology.

“Our conference provided a platform for many marine biologists from leading universities to address issues and develop strategies in conservation, climate change, microbiology, biogeography and evolution. HKUST’s Department of Ocean Science recently launched Hong Kong’s first undergraduate degree program in ocean science and technology, and the GRC certainly enhanced the visibility of the University’s marine faculty members and their important role in ocean science research and education.”

Zeng said that this GRC was characterized by its breadth of topics, covering the entire spectrum of organisms in marine ecosystems, including bacteria, viruses, algae, fish and mammals. Scientists who work on different organisms had the opportunity to have engaging conversations. “This is the fourth meeting since its initiation in 2013, and participants have already voted to organize it again in 2021 because the rapid development in technology relevant to marine molecular ecology provides new opportunities for understanding life in the sea,” Zeng commented.

Traditionally, Gordon Research Seminars (GRSs) are held in conjunction with the GRC to create an intimate and supportive environment for young scientists and postdoctoral students to present their ideas and to interact with people in their academic social network. This year was no exception, while it also marked the first year to initiate a GRS for the topic “Genome Architecture in Cell Fate and Disease”.

Another highlight of the GRC is the Power Hour, an optional informal gathering incorporated in the program since 2016. Prof. Angela WU, Assistant Professor of Life Science and of Chemical and Biological Engineering, attended one of the sessions in mid-July. “The Power Hour provides a safe environment where conferees can discuss issues pertinent to challenges faced by women in the STEM communities. Participants are encouraged by the sharing, and the exchange helps them realize that they are not alone in their challenges,” she noted. “It also allows people to share their experience and seek advice on how to handle difficult situations. At a higher level, differences between institutional practices can be compared, so the best practices can be adopted.”