Friday, 5 June 2015

Planck 2015 Summary

It's a week after Planck finished, and I'm almost over the jetlag of my return flight.  So as good a time as any to write my summary of the conference!

I wasn't too impressed.

There were a number of problems with the conference this year.  Some of these were organisational.  Some were topical.  Some were just unfortunate, such as it raining the days of the excursion and conference banquet.  But of the four Plancks I have been to, it ranks the lowest; and while I have had worse experiences at other conferences, those were for somewhat unrelated personal reasons.

The biggest problem I have with the conference was the subject material.  I'm not opposed to string theory, technical issues or supersymmetry.  But they dominated this conference, with the result that I skipped a lot of plenary talks on the grounds that I just wasn't interested.  Previous years offered more phenomenology, and less evangelism of SUSY, so that this year felt quite jarring in comparison.

The second biggest problem I have with the conference was the fact that talk slides were not put up online.  Even now, a week later, they do not seem available on the conference website!  Anyone who followed my liveblog will have seen me repeatedly complain about this point, because it lead to me being a lot more lost in talks than usual.  It also exacerbated the problem above with too many string theory and formal talks.  Without the ability to flip through the slides and see where things were going, or check back on points I missed, they were more opaque and less interesting to me.

A closely related third problem was the lighting and projection in the main auditorium.  With the entire room lit, it was often hard to read the slides.  Granted, I should perhaps have sat further forward more often than I did, but this was still much worse than at other conferences I have been to.

The fourth biggest problem was the organisation of the conference.  The internet was pretty awful at the beginning of the week, though it did seem to get better later.  Lunch was unexpectedly provided, but unless you were quick and got to the queue early (or were a big name and got food delivered) it took ages to get through the line.  This was mostly an issue with the facilities; there was only space for a single line, creating an obvious bottleneck, and no real alternatives within walking distance.  But this should have factored into planning.  Lastly, I'll note that the schedule for the final day was changed the day before, cancelling a number of plenary talks and adding a conference summary talk not in the original plan.  That's not an encouraging sign.

It also felt like the conference attendance was down quite a bit on previous years.  This is likely because the setting was relatively remote, by European standards.  Certainly, Ioannina is a much harder place to get to than Paris, Bonn or Warsaw, the three previous hosts.  Though it's a bit hard to blame the organisers for that fact.

So, after all that, was there anything I liked about the conference?  There were some interesting parallel talks.  Oleg Antipin's discussion of accidental composite dark matter, based on this recent paper with Redi, Strumia and Vigiani, was interesting and well-delivered.  The model is kind of arbitrary, but I'm certainly guilty of worse.  Kallia Petraki's discussion of self-interacting asymmetric dark matter was also quite good, though I've found the "atomic dark matter" idea interesting since I first saw it.  The last dark matter talk I'd like to highlight was Bob Zheng's discussion of non-thermal dark matter, based on this recent paper.  I think that paper is very good, and so was the talk about it.

There were also non-dark matter talks I liked.  I should mention the other Melbourne participants, Csaba Balasz, James Barnard and Jackson Clarke, who all gave good talks.  I don't think any of them read this blog, so I'll say that James's was the most interesting to me personally, and I'm looking forward to the paper coming out.  Stefano Di Chiaro's discussion of the triplet-extended MSSM was given well, and important for understanding that model; I'm just not sure what I think about the model itself.  From the same session, I also liked Otto Kong's presentation of a SUSY NJL model.

All in all, I don't regret going to Planck this year.  But that's in part because it gave me an excuse to go to Athens.  If my attendance wasn't covered by my travel budget, I'd be much more regretful.

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