This is my fourth MRS meeting. Although I still remember the excitement I had when attending my first MRS meeting at San Francisco a year and half ago, I feel that excitement in me is gone. I guess it is partially because I have learned more and more about what the whole community are doing throughout the previous three meetings, and hence fewer and fewer topics are new to me. It is also because as my experience grows, I become more and more acquainted with my own research interests and disinterests, and the things I can do and I cannot. As a result, my tastes become narrower.
Of course, there are great talks and novel topics that still make me feel the meeting worth my time (and the registration fee). Topological insulator is a topic that I heard about for a while but couldn’t grasp the concept until the talk on Monday morning by Shoucheng Zhang. Topics such as self-organization, nano-assembly, graphene continue to interest me. For me, quality talks are abound in those symposiums. So as cleantech related symposium. Those are my scientific and technological interests.
My biggest insights about conference going, however, came from two symposiums that are downright boring to me. The first one is the X-ray workshop on Sunday morning. I registered for the workshop because X-ray technique has been an important part of my graduate work, and I feel that I don’t know enough about it. During the workshop, I realized that how technical some of these researches are. To be fair, they are great scientists. But their work bores me. I realized that one can spend his whole life, perfecting one technique in one scientific area, and that is not what I want to do with my professional life. There are new fields out there that are more intellectually fertile. The credit goes to those who find them the first.
My second insight came when I was at a talk in symposium on porous materials. The talk just bored me to death. I am, by no means, discrediting the field of porous materials. There are still great researchers working in this field. But since my gradate work is all about porous materials, I think, may I boast to claim, that the field has reached saturation, and nothing strikes me as really novel and interesting. On the other hand, the application of these porous materials have a lot of relevance in energy, solar and cleantech sectors, (which is reason why I went to these talks in the first place). It makes me think: how to balance novelty and relevance, and how to balance my own personal interest and enthusiasm and the significance of my research in the current social and technological context.