Microscopists in bloom

For the past few days I kept myself busy with my booth at the 23rd New Zealand Conference on Microscopy at the University of Auckland

On Tuesday, I lugged my stuff down to the site and set up my booth, then got to move it to a less breezy location where I was able to measure.  I met some organizers, some co-exhibitors, and then some delegates at the mixer that evening.  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in particular impressed me that evening, as did Colin Doyle’s delicacies.  (Not the Birmingham City goalie, nor the Vonage NLL MVP, nor the actor, but the Colin Doyle from the RCSMS at Auckland University, which I probably shouldn’t even mention because they don’t use a Nanosurf AFM.) 

On Wednesday, I bought water and snacks at the convenience store and readied my booth, then went in for the first round of talks, the “gristle talks” as an unnamed member of the RCSMS put it.  They centered (or centred, in New Zealand) on ovine this and ovine that.  Ovine spine, ovine ovaries – it seems that after rugby and beer Kiwis care most about sheep.  (And yet, at the time of writing, I have yet to eat lamb or mutton here.)  In the afternoon, I stayed at the booth, talking to delegates, and measuring a CD stamper (the tool that stamps the little pits into raw CDs) on the shaky little table of mine.  The display company obviously had no idea what a microscopist understands when he hears “stable table.”  In the evening there was a poster session and a trades evening, and people did indeed stop by and marvel at our cute AFM, but did seem to prefer the dinner we collectively sponsored.  Who am I to blame them? 

I believe it was on Thursday that in a conversation I was introduced to bryozoans by a visitor to our booth, whom I will refer to as “Lady Bryozoan” to protect the innocent.  Bryozoans are allegedly fascinating living blobs (“a phylum of predominantly marine, clonal, sessile invertebrates,” i.e. marine couch potatoes) randomly equipped with “avicularia,” the function of which has yet to be determined (which Lady Bryozoan dreams of doing).  These bryozoans form colonies (albeit neither commonwealths nor cricket tournaments) and, mysteriously, some colonies have no avicularia, and in those that do have them their location cannot be predicted.  (I propose a division into “Monastic” and “Big-Mouth” colonies.)  Later at the dinner in Auckland harbor Lady Bryozoan gazed forlornly off the deck at the crustacean grime on the pilings opposite and voiced her regret at not being able to climb down there and check for bryozoans or at least the diatoms they grow on.  The real shocker was being able to mention bryozoans in separate conversations with two other people without them batting an eye.

Ah, yes, the conference dinner.  Excellent steak, excellent wine, and dancing microscopists.  You didn’t really think microscopists were that different from your likes, did you?  The floating pavilion offered a great view of Auckland as the backdrop and made even teetotallers sway. 

That night I slept badly.  Whether it was jet lag’s last attack or something in the food or not being prepared for Friday’s talk, I tossed and turned and woke up at 4:15 after three hours of sleep.  I prepared my presentation just in time to leave for the last day of the conference. 

In wise foresight, the organizers had set the starting time a bit later than the other two days.  The time people showed up stood in a rough inverse proportional relationship to the time they had returned to their lodging.  Maybe that helped the Annual General Meeting go faster. 

My talk went well, although I really wanted to go to the bathroom at that time, but I wasn’t running out and missing being called up.  I enjoyed that whole session, with two talks on metallic materials and one after mine on telepresence in microscopy use.  Then, after a phenomenally short closing address (“Thanks for coming, come again in two years”) the conference ended, and I took down my booth.  It was a small conference, but one where I enjoyed the sense of mutual encouragement and collaboration between microscopists in very different fields.  I also noticed that of the organizing committee two thirds were women, and so was a large number both of trades delegates and regular delegates. 

Obviously, after a long day and a short night I was tired, and so when I got back to the hotel just before seven I decided to take a nap.  When my alarm woke me from that nap I lost no time deciding to skip dinner and just go to bed. 


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