Annual eSSENCE multiscale modelling meeting went digital in 2020

Facts and  numbers

The meeting had 599 registered participants from 51 countries. Over 210 academic institutions were represented as well as 78 companies worldwide ranging from large international ones like Johnson Matthey, Dassault Systemes BIOVIA, AstraZeneca, Northvolt AB, Sandvik, BASF SE, Solvay SA, Ansys Granta, Unilever, etc. , to smaller ones such as Thermo-Calc Software AB, OrionX.net, Evonik Industries AG and Materials Design S.A.R.L.  At any point in time during the meeting high attendance was noted (50-60% of registered participants during the first half of the meeting and the attendence continued to be high throughout the meeting). This was the first virtual version of the eSSENCE multiscale modelling meeting (but not the last). In the midst of the spring the meeting was changed to an online meeting, entailing a pile of extra challenges.

Below, the main conference organizers, Professor Kersti Hermansson and Docent Peter Broqvist in the Structural Chemistry Program at Uppsala University, share what kind of decisions and preparations were needed to make the virtual conference happen.

“For good and for bad, we had to re-think most of the normal conference concepts”, they say. “Like what components are necessary, what is not necessary, how does one create a social ambiance in the webinar form, and so on.  All this needed to be planned as we were 2 months into the pandemic and 6 weeks before the meeting!”.

From a conventional conference to a modern webinar

“First of all, we had to decide whether to postpone, skip or pursue the event. After some deliberation we opted for the latter, checked the willingness of the speakers to switch to webinar mode, sent out a new set of announcements to all the forums already contacted, and – most of all –we needed to teach ourselves all the technical bits and pieces needed to run a smooth online meeting, and the functional website to go with it. This was a new and challenging experience to the members of our research group.”

“Overall, our philosophy was to make the on-line conference as similar as possible to an in-real-life meeting. That is, we wanted to include all the same scientific ingredients as in a usual conference: keynote presentations of international and national experts, invited talks, poster session with break-out rooms, panel discussion, + some sparse participants on site to create a meeting atmosphere and where the Zoom presentations could also be followed on big screens”.

Scientific program and a European perspective

The overall focus of the eSSENCE multiscale meeting is methods & model development in connection with multi-scale modelling and the meeting had “Physics-based vs data-driven” as an explicit sub-theme. This theme continues to be of prime interest to the modelling community and here we strive for a balanced mix of the physics-based and data-driven strands of multi-scale modelling. The meeting website is reachable at https://sites.google.com/site/emultiscale2020.

Two large new European programmes were also highlighted in the programme. Thus the computational aspects of the large-scale research initiative Battery 2030+ (launched 2020) was the topic of the first key-note lecture, given by Professor Tejs Vegge (Technical U of Denmark). The new European Materials Modelling Council (launched 2019) was highlighted in the invited talk by Dr. Gerhard Goldbeck (executive secretary, Brussels).

“At the same time, and at least as important”, says Kersti, “is the fact that the national attendance was great. The Swedish participation came from eSSENCE, from SeRC (SU, KTH, LiU), from the e-science communities at CTH and GU, as well as from Högskolan in Gävle, Malmö Högskola, Örebro University and the Technical University of Luleå. And as usual eSSENCE@Lund was greatly supportive in the planning, and also took an active part in the implementation.”

Outlook, 2021

An on-line survey was sent out after the meeting. Fig 2 displays the answer distributions for the question “The scientific quality of the event was….” (5 was best). Another question was: “How likely are you to attend our event next year if it were to be held via Zoom?” where 67% gave 5. The question “How likely are you to come to Uppsala in person to attend our event next year?” also gave a high score: 55% gave 5 or 4. For the question “Given both options, which do you prefer?” 52% answered: “in person attendance.”

With the notable success of the conference, the organizers will keep the digital format for 2021, possibly together with in-person attendance. The hybrid approach would allow to combine the best of both forms and provide strong visibility of eSSENCE. Stay tuned for more information

Rapporteur:  Fil lic Ageo Meier de Andrade

(Strucural chemistry, Uppsala University)

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