40th Meeting of Polish Physicists
September 6-11, 2009, Cracow

General info

This was the event typical as well as extraordinary. Typical, because the meetings of the Polish physicists have been organized by the leading academic center every two years since 1923. Extraordinary, because it bridged the gap between research physicists and physics teachers at schools. On 6 – 11 September Kraków hosted about 400 physicists from all over the country, who participated in XL Congress of the Polish Physicists. The meeting was organized by the Kraków Branch of the Polish Physical Society with the considerable aid of Kraków universities (Jagiellonian University, AGH University of Science and Technology, Kraków University of Technology, Pedagogical University of Kraków) and the Henryk Niewodniczański Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences.

XL means “fortieth” but it may also denote “extra large”. Both these meanings aptly describe the Meeting in Kraków. The gathering took place at one of the greatests conference centers in Poland: the Auditorium Maximum of the Jagiellonian University. Nine conference rooms with full electronic equipment, halls, a restaurant, a parking lot and other facilities were available for the participants. Extra large was also the total number of participants which amounted to 850, including about 450 pupils brought by their school teachers.

With great satisfaction we note that the Congress attracted many distinguished guests from both Europe and overseas. Among them were President and General Secretary of EPS, Presidents of the Physical Societies of Belarus, China, Lithuania and Slovakia, other members of PS from Germany, UK, Italy, France and China, and some guests from the USA.

The ceremony of conferring medals, diplomas and checks on distinguished scientists took place during a grand opening session. Here we mention only two of the laureates: the highest prize – the Marian Smoluchowski Medal, was awarded to Wojciech Żurek from Los Alamos National Laboratory for his research on the connections between classical physics and quantum mechanics. This event should be deemed extraordinary because during 90 years of PPS history only a few Poles working abroad have been awarded such a remarkable distinction. Wojciech Rubinowicz scientific prize was won by Jerzy Jurkiewicz from the Jagiellonian University for his contribution to the formulation of the four-dimensional causal theory of gravity. Other prizes awarded during the session were related to achievements in popularization of physics, teaching and master’s theses. The Congress schedule contained various research fields that covered a wide range of scientific interests in Poland. The morning plenary sessions consisted mainly of lectures of the awarded researchers with Georg Bednorz – the Noble Prize winner of 1987. The other lectures concerned some new topics very important for physicists of all branches for example the project of building of Hadron Therapy Center or new synchrotron just realized in Poland.

In the afternoon nine specialized parallel sessions were devoted to:

  1. solid state physics
  2. physics of soft matter
  3. optics, cold atoms, atom and molecular physics
  4. nuclear physics, hadron structure, heavy-ion collisions
  5. medical physics
  6. physics of the elementary interactions, astrophysics, history of the early Universe
  7. physics of plasma: diagnostics and applications
  8. problems of energetics in Poland
  9. teaching and popularization of science.

In total there were about 160 lectures given during the Congress. The poster presentations were exposed on all days of the Congress, but meeting with their authors was scheduled for only two hours one afternoon. School teachers of physics and their students could find very rich program: four plenary sessions and three specialized sessions. They were composed of lectures, workshops, new experiments possible to be performed at school, a panel discussion concerning the recently changed program of teaching etc. An extra new proposition was an e-learning course: the teachers were presented new possibilities of enlarging pupils’ knowledge by means of computer programs. For a wider audience there was the lecture entitled “Nuclear Energetic – its Present State and Perspectives,” delivered by prof. Jerzy Niewodniczański, the former President of the National Atomic Energy Agency.

The crowning point of the Congress was a panel discussion named “Quo vadis Polish physics” concerning the situation of physics in Poland. Distinguished professors, representatives of the Ministry, Presidents of EPS and PPS, the President of the School Teachers’ Section of the Polish Physical Society, and the Director of IFJ – the largest research institute of PAN: all of them presented their points of view on the problem and discussed the light and dark sides of the actual situation of Polish physics. The panel chairman prof. A. Białas, President of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, also gave the audience the chance to interact with the panel specialists. The conclusions from this fascinating discussion are not very optimistic: we have a crisis. Physics may fall into decline, but it may as well develop further in the future after the successes in new experiments and theories. At present we have to attract young people to study the modern physics.

Kraków Congress of Physicists was accompanied by various cultural and artistic events. Just after the welcome party all participants could listen to the recital by famous artists G. Turnau and A. Sikorowski, the masters of Polish sung poetry. Screening of the open air performance entitled The Spirit of Physics, took place in the Auditorium Maximum. The author and starring actors are scientists. Polish premiere of the performance was held last year at the IFJ PAN during the European Project called Scientists Night. In Collegium Maius of the Jagiellonian University the exhibition Ancient and Recent Sciences as well as the Garden of Experiments were opened for attendees of the Congress. During an excursion to the Salt Mine in Wieliczka its participants could marvel over the ancient galleries, tunnels and the underground lake, admire altars and holy figures sculpted in salt in the chapel, and wonder at the ballroom and old mining equipment.

XL Congress of the Polish Physicists gave the opportunity for personal meetings and conversations among participants during coffee breaks and at lunch time. The conference dinner took place in Folwark Zalesie. With its professional service, delicious cuisine and good music it was arranged to perfection. In a friendly atmosphere the physicists could enjoy their time and dance for hours until late at night.

Dr Malgorzata Nowina Konopka

Institute of Nuclear Physics

Polish Academy of Science

Department of Structural Research