2019-07-29

My Time in Luxembourg and at the META19 Conference in Lisbon

This is an update from my recent travel to Luxembourg and Lisbon. I had the privilege of traveling to Luxembourg to deliver an invited talk to my collaborator's group; we have published 2 papers together, are about to have a third published (for which I'll write a post once the publication is official), and are working on a fourth. It was productive to meet with my collaborators to hash out the details of our fourth paper together, and I think I did reasonably well delivering my talk, for which the first part was about the work with my collaborators modeling fluctuational electromagnetic phenomena at the interface between small objects that have to be treated at the atomic scale and large objects that can be treated as continuous, and the second part was about my more recent work purely within my group putting upper bounds on thermal radiation and heat transfer. Additionally, I appreciated the interesting conversations I had after my talk with various members of that group.

I also got to go to the META19 Conference in Lisbon, which is centered around research in nanophotonics and metamaterials; there, I presented an invited talk about the aforementioned work on upper bounds to heat transfer, which my advisor graciously let me do in his place. It was great to meet people that I knew associated with my advisor but hadn't seen in a few years, and we got to discuss each other's work in great depth; I got to also meet a few other people for the first time, and had some good conversations with them about our respective projects too. That said, while I think the delivery of my presentation there was good, I did feel like I could have done a better job of preparing my presentation in a way that better fit the context: my presentation may have been too theoretical, so for an audience of engineers who care more about using metamaterials and nanophotonic architectures to make new devices, I could have been clearer about broad physical insights and done a better job connecting the findings in my work to ideas of interest to such researchers. Additionally, I could have probably done a better job networking, though my reticence was in part due to uncertainty on my part regarding my future plans.

I also had a day in each city to explore, but there were issues in each case. For one, neither Luxembourg nor Lisbon are especially tourist-oriented cities compared to places like London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, or Berlin, as far as I've heard: both cities have a lot of nice restaurants and cafes as well as many nice viewpoints and other areas to simply hang out and relax, but there aren't so many specific attractions, as Luxembourg is known more for housing EU governmental offices as well as international finance companies, while Lisbon seems to generally not have invested in tourism as much. I did hear in each place that the surrounding countrysides are beautiful, so perhaps that is where more tourism happens and where more interesting things can be seen. (Also, it didn't help that I was in Lisbon on a Monday, when many things are closed.) For another, both cities are not especially good for people like me in power wheelchairs who want to travel independently; people who are able-bodied, in manual wheelchairs, or have disabilities that require them to be assisted by partners or personal care attendants full-time may be better served. In Luxembourg, I didn't feel like I missed too much because it's a fairly small city anyway, and the public transit buses were accessible (though there were some issues even there). In Lisbon, I felt like I missed more because it is a bigger city, yet its Metro rapid transit train system, which is supposedly accessible, actually has large gaps between the train floors and platforms, and most of the buildings have large steps to enter. I do hope to visit Europe again, but when I do, I hope to make sure it will be a city/area that is more friendly to people in power wheelchairs.

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