Attending a conference abroad (4/7): Of Nobel Prize Winners and Fires

This is the continuation of my story about my time getting and being at the 23rd Conference on Applied Crystallography in Krynica, Poland. Make sure, you read the beginning of my story (as well as the disclaimer in case you get a wrong impression of the scientific value of this conference :)

For immersive reading, I recommend We didn’t start the fire from Billy Joel and Message in a Bottle from The Police as background music.

And this is how the story continues:

Day 2

The alarm clock rang bright and early. Yesterday, I had been told at the check-in, that at some point during the night another guy would turn up with whom I had to share the room. Therefore, I was surprised to find the bed next to mine empty and untouched. I set out through the open skies, avoiding the rat maze, to return to the place where we had had dinner last night. After the trouble of deciding what to get form the large breakfast buffet table, I thought that it was time to mingle some more. I spotted a table with two people who I hadn’t seen before and sat down.

As it turned out, they were a couple of artists from Warsaw on vacation. Despite the fact that they had nothing to do with the conference, I had a nice chat with them. Time went on fast and soon all attendees gathered in the conference room, listening to the welcoming notes. Then for the real opening, Dan Shechtman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011, talked about his discoveries in quasicrystals. I was completely awed, feeling very sciency, as I listened to his talk. The conference sessions passed by very fast and all too soon we found ourselves waiting in line at the dinner buffet. I sat down with the Polish quasi-crystallographer gang I had met the day before and we were soon followed by their group leader and Mr. Quasicrystal himself. Now I felt even more sciency and very uncertain; how do you strike up a conversation with a Nobel Prize winner? I’m not a quasicrystallographer, so I couldn’t talk about this topic. Asking him, what he is doing, now that he got a Nobel Prize simply felt rude, so I continued talking to the other people on the table. Later on, Prof. Shechtman entered our conversation about Polish beer and shared the following wisdom with us: “All beer is only rented.” Seldom had I heard truer words, although Prof. Shechtman admitted it was not his original line.

Someone among the quasicrystallographer group said, that we should go and play billiard. Before we were able to leave the dinning hall, we heard a rumor about a party later on. With this happy thought in our minds, we set out into the rat maze and I was surprised how easily the quasicrystallographer gang located the billiard tables. The guys turned out to be very proficient billiard players. I was only able to scrap one winning of the games. Time passed by fast and before I went to the party room, I stopped by my bedroom to drop off some stuff.

When I entered the room, I found myself in the company of my roommate. As I introduced myself, he told me, that I already did that last night. He entered the room way past midnight and that I woke up to introduce myself and fell back to sleep immediately. I had absolutely no recollection of this event. He further told me, that he had slept somwhere else in order to not disturb me any further. It was a nice gesture, but if I can’t remember, can I feel disturbed?

Together we went to the party room, which had a small bar, a DJ (just for us!) with some fancy lighting and several comfortable leather sofas, which you sink into several centimeters when sitting down. My roommate’s colleagues soon joined us and we shared all kinds of stories over a few beers. After a while, the women felt like dancing and “pulled” us men onto the dance floor (yeah, like I would really resist a dance offer from a beautiful woman). I must admit, these Polish women are quick on their feet! After some time, our feet were danced out and we returned to our rooms to get some sleep. When my head touched my pillow, I fondly remembered the dancing and fell asleep with a smile on my lips.

Suddenly, I woke up and sat bolt upright in my bed, tense, alert and confused. This is how a motorcycle must feel when it gets bump started was my first thought. Then I realized why I was awake: there was a loud Polish voice booming over the speakers. I stuck my head out of the room and saw another face. I asked, if this was the fire alarm. The face confirmed it. After I put on some trousers, I went outside and met several others from the house in which we had been sleeping peacefully. A friendly voice commented on my bare feet on the cold ground but I told her that I liked it that way. We were talking about if this was false alarm until someone spotted some smoke on the roof. Some swear words crossed my mind and I changed my location to get a better look. As it turned out, the smoke was coming from a perfectly functioning chimney. After a few minutes, we were told that someone who smoked in his room has triggered the alarm. After this little nighttime adventure, we went back to sleep.

To be continued…