On the big stage
College of Arts & Sciences
Led by UND distinguished professor of chemistry, Mark Hoffmann, Grand Forks plays host to international theoretical chemical physics conference
With a population of only 55,000, setting a world stage in Grand Forks, N.D., was no easy task.
But on July 17, that goal became a reality as the Ninth Tri-annual International Society for Theoretical Chemical Physics (ISTCP) conference kicked off with an introduction from the University of North Dakota’s own Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Mark Hoffmann.
As the chairman for this year’s ISTCP Conference, Hoffmann, associate vice president for research capacity building at UND, has overseen preparations for the event, along with the organizing committee, since the bid to hold the conference in Grand Forks was won three years ago.
The conference brought together international members of a select scientific community that strives to develop and apply new methodologies in the field of chemical physics. The work they do has practical applications in developing pollution-abatement technology and has implications for energy in both extraction and renewable methods, along with several other applications and new materials.
Mostly, those attending were faculty members from universities around the world. Representatives from countries such as Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Japan and China were in attendance.
Kicking it off
Buses carrying travelers from far and wide arrived and began unloading a cargo of scientists and professors from universities around the world. As they made their way into the Alerus Conference Center, the attendees were warmly greeted by members of UND’s Chemistry Department, students and faculty alike, who were volunteering their time and working the registration tables.
“I’m deeply humbled that participation is truly international with talks by presenters from 27 different countries and posters from 14 different countries,” Hoffmann says. “Participation is also good from across the U.S., we have participation from 25 states and posters from 17 states.”
As more and more people arrived, they began congregating in front of the registration table with as much deep conversation as fits of laughter shared between old friends. Fashioned with green lanyards that read www.visitgrandforks.com and small green bags containing information specific to the conference, international tongues began conversing and filling the room. Scientists and professors from around the globe gathered and shared ideas and insight -- a goal Hoffmann hoped to achieve when he began this endeavor three years ago.
“I was very excited to see everything begin after all of the planning,” Hoffmann says. “I was also very humbled that all these people were coming here. There was a touch of nervousness, and maybe a touch of fear, but overall I was excited.”
In one of the Alerus Center ballrooms, upwards of 30 tables, seating 10 apiece, laid before a prominent stage with two projection screens on either side. As he waited for his time to deliver his opening remarks, Hoffmann stood in a small group discussing the activities about to take place, three years of planning and preparing leading to this moment.
“The tone of a meeting can be set early on,” Hoffmann said. “You can make a good start go bad but it’s very difficult to take a bad start and make a meeting go well.”
As Hoffmann took the stage, he kicked off his speech by giving credit to all the people who assisted him in making the conference possible, including UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Tom DiLorenzo and former UND President Robert Kelley, who together, believed in the conference and supported it.
Native American intro
As Hoffmann wrapped up his opening remarks, he invited the crowd to enjoy a performance by a local American Indian drum circle. The three performers stood and began beating their drums and singing along to the beat. Members of the worldwide community looked on in wonderment as they witnessed the drum circle perform. Within seconds of the performance beginning, the crowd slowly rose to their feet as a sign of respect. As the beat intensified, and the voices of the performers grew louder, the attention of the convention was unmistakably on the performers. As the drum circle concluded their performance, a thunderous round of applause ensued.
Week of events
For the rest of the week, the conference was packed with presentations, symposia and poster sessions. World-renowned chemical physicists shared their knowledge and expertise with attentive groups. The focus of the symposia ranged from the study of complex materials (of material science or biological interests) to relativistic and quantum electrodynamic (QED) effects that probe some of the most fundamental aspects of the universe.
Attending every event was impossible, but Hoffmann oversaw the conference as a whole from day one until its completion.
After three years of hard work, Hoffmann’s vision came together, with the conference going as planned and no issues.
“I was really happy, but I also realize the enormous contributions other people made to this as well,” Hoffmann says. “This was especially true of Cathy Lerud and Carla Kellner (UND employees in Experimental Program to Stimulate Completive Research – EPSCoR--office), as well as the people at the Alerus. What looked like little details were only little if they were done right.”
Now that the conference has come and passed, Hoffmann has a lasting impression of his hard work, complete with fond memories and exceptional execution.
“I couldn’t be more pleased. And I’m also really tired; there’s a lot of relief. A lot of time and a lot of work is now in the rear view mirror.”
Matt Edison. "On the big stage" (2016). UND News Archive. 1305.