I suppose the first thing to do is actually tell you what EGU is. EGU stands for European Geosciences Union (the parties are legendary), and it was formed in 2002. They hold an annual conference in Vienna, Austria; and pretty much every gorram person on the planet attends. At least, that’s how it feels to a first timer like me. I’ve been to conferences before, even ones I considered “big”. But everything is dwarfed by the EGU conference. All three floors (and most of the building next door) of the Vienna International Centre are occupied by talks, on every possible permutation of the geological sciences. This year there were 15,000 abstracts presented, and over 12,000 people attended from almost half the countries in the world. According to Wikipedia, the 2013 session included over 4500 talks and 8000 posters, for which I believe the technical term is a “metric shit-ton” of posters.
The icing on the cake for this particular conference, at least for me, was that I was the only one from my department attending. So I was making the trip halfway around the planet again, except this time I hadn’t been to the country in question before, and didn’t speak the language.
Perhaps it’s this underlying concern that meant I forgot to check my plane tickets properly and turned up a day late for my flights. Alternate tickets were sourced, but I had to pay for these (is it wrong that the most money I ever spent in one go was due to my own stupidity, rather than something fun like a car?), which meant that for the rest of trip there I checked every detail of the flights like an OCD librarian. It was a veneer of cheerfulness over a core of incessant panic; my internal monologue was simply one long scream. Pro-tip: forget the fine print, always read the big text that’s right in front of your nose first.
On the upside, Singapore airport is on the list of places I’m genuinely glad I went to. Airports are a curious blend of heaven and hell at the best of times, but this one seems to have forgotten the hell part. There’s a nap lounge, butterfly garden, free cinema and several indoor gardens. I could happily have lived there, at least until security got suspicious and threw me out. Frankfurt airport also took me by surprise; the newsagents had two separate publications about the Raspberry Pi, and even stocked Asterix books (in German, natch).
EGU itself was mind-blowing, as I may have mentioned. The poster halls were bigger than most conferences I’ve been to on their own; fields and fields of hopeful scientists, hoping someone glances at their work rather than making a bee-line for the free booze. I had to set my poster up on the first day, and was surprised to see people taking theirs down after the session ended; surely you leave it up, just in case someone walks past and takes an interest? Apparently there were so many people wanting to put up posters at EGU that even with multiple halls for posters, you had to take them down afterwards. Silver lining: I didn’t have to worry about carrying my poster back to New Zealand. Because it had been thrown away. Ho hum.
It also took me a while to decrypt the way that rooms and floors were labelled. I spent a heck of a long time wandering around in a daze looking for “green six”, finding number five, then seven, blinking a few times, and starting the entire process over again. It doesn’t help that the conference center is essentially a giant doughnut, meaning you can do laps if you want. Though it does mean that you get to discover wonderful things, like the life-size Huygens probe, and the ‘atmosphere of the Earth’ tour – essentially a series of rooms with different displays inside, including one filled with ‘clouds’ and another that simulated a thunderstorm. (Thankfully the torrential rain was just a sound track.)
Even though EGU was huge, it did illustrate just how close knit a community the geosciences are; I met two people I knew, one of whom is American but I first met in Iceland. We get everywhere, us nerdy types.
The talks covered everything I could think of, from methane on Uranus (LOL) to the political implications of panda donations between nations for flood relief efforts. It was particularly nice to find someone doing an extended lecture on the Fast Fourier Transform after that last one, so I could relax to some hardcore mathematics porn for a while.
Luckily the next conference I’m attending is in the same country as me, and will only be around a hundred, not a few thousand, people. And best of all? No flights.
But I’m so glad EGU is something I got to experience. It really reinforced the fact that there are so many of us out there, clawing away at the edges of reality. I am a geoscientist, and I am legion.