Annual eSSENCE multiscale modelling meeting went digital in 2020

The adversities with covid-19 also brought the chance to re-think how conferences could still happen worldwide. It was not different from the 2020 eSSENCE Multiscale modelling of molecules in materials meeting on the 8th of June this year, the first time the conference was broadcasted to 599 registered participants from 51 countries in all continents.

From a conventional conference to a modern webinar

Kersti Hermansson, Professor in Inorganic Chemistry at Uppsala University and the main conference organizer, shared what kind of decisions were needed to make the conference happen.
Kersti: “In the midst of our planning for the June 2020 meeting, the consequences of the Corona pandemic hit us, and we had to decide whether to postpone, skip or pursue the conference plans. 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 had to learn all the technical bits and pieces needed to run a smooth online meeting, which was totally new to all members of our research group”.

Professor Hermansson emphasizes the wish to arrange the conference with high interaction from the participants. “Overall, our philosophy was to make the online conference as similar as possible to our “normal” eSSENCE conferences in previous years. That is, we wanted to try to include all the same scientific ingredients as usual: keynote presentations of international authorities, invited talks, a presentation from the eSSENCE coordinator, poster session, panel discussion, vivid discussions, and the conference was as usual run from the Siegbahn Hall at the Ångström Laboratory, now with 15 sparse participants on-site to create the “ambiance” of an IRL meeting.

Figure. The Siegbahn Hall during the eSSENCE conference

The participants were from all over the globe, from both industry and universities

Over 210 academic institutions and 78 companies were represented at the conference. Among industrial participation, which accounted for 20% of the registered participants, companies such as Johson Matthey, Dassault Systemes, BIOVIA, AstraZeneca, Northvolt AB and many others were active during the scientific discussions, the poster session and panel discussion. 
The eSSENCE multiscale modelling meeting has built up some national recognition over the years, as evidenced by broad participation over the country. This year’s Swedish participation came from eSSENCE, from SeRC (SU, KTH, LiU), from e-science communities at CTH and GU, as well as from Högskolan in Gävle, Malmö Högskola, Örebro University and the Technical University of Luleå. As usual, eSSENCE@Lund was much supportive in the planning, and Magnus Ullner (LU) also took part in the implementation of the panel discussion.

Figure.Geographical distribution of the ~600 registered participants

The eSSENCE of complex systems

The conference’s main scientific topic in 2020 was “Multiscale modelling of materials and molecules ? in complex systems”, with the overall focus on methods and model development. The computational aspects of two large new European programmes were highlighted in the programme. Multiscale modelling in battery research was the topic of the first keynote lecture given by Professor Tejs Vegge from the Technical University of Denmark, one of Battery 2030+ research initiative leaders. Data-driven approaches of multiscale modelling were the main topic of the other two keynote lectures. Professor Anatole von Lilienfeld from the University of Base discussed the scientific community’s efforts on coupling data science, alchemy, and quantum machine learning. Professor Peter Coveney from University College London gave a fascinating lecture entitled “Big data: The end of the scientific method?” 
With the notable success of the conference, the organizers plan to keep the digital format for 2021. The organizers plan a 2-day conference, and a limited number of in-person attendance is being considered. Stay tuned for more information!

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