CIAN International Travel Grant: Jasmine’s New Zealand Story

This year, I received a CIAN student travel grant for conference travel. Thanks to this grant, I headed to New Zealand over Thanksgiving for the International Network of OSA Students Conference on Optics, Atoms, and Laser Applications (IONS KOALA). Throughout the week, I gave a presentation on my research, listened to students from around the world present their research, heard a talk by a Nobel laureate, and explored the city of Auckland!

KOALA is a conference that bounces between Australia and New Zealand every year, so naturally, its mascot is a koala hugging a kiwi:


Each year’s organizing team adds a new patch, although the poor koala is starting to run out of space.

This was a student conference, which showed in a couple of ways. We were told at the start of the conference that anyone going over their time limit (15 minutes for most talks) would get shot with a Nerf gun until they stopped talking. This was apparently a pretty effective threat, because only one presenter went over time. Also, the organizers went out of their way to ensure that the presenters felt encouraged; if no one in the audience had a question at the end of a talk, the session chair would always ask something.

I gave one of the first talks of the conference (“Structure and Applications of Self-Assembled Indium Nanoantennas”), which meant the audience was really engaged and had a ton of questions. The rest of the week, people kept recognizing me and complimenting my presentation, so I think it went pretty well!

Photo Credit: John Taylor

Photo Credit: John Taylor, OSA

The conference schedule was packed with around six hours of talks most days, plus evening events and social time. There were over a hundred attendees, including four plenary speakers (the only non-students allowed to present at the conference). My favorite plenary speaker was Bill Phillips, one of the recipients of the 1997 Nobel Prize “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.” His talk covered Bose-Einstein Condensates and included some photos from Brian Anderson’s research (an OSC professor).

During the social events, I met students from half a dozen countries, most of whom were studying in either Australia or New Zealand. We took a group photo on the beach before our final conference dinner:

Photo Credit: John Taylor, OSA

Photo Credit: John Taylor, OSA

During the dinner, the conference organizers recognized the International Year of Light outreach activities by the various student groups represented at the conference. Several students gave short presentations about their major accomplishments, which ranged from a day of hands-on Optics activities to inclusion in a city-wide art installation. Also during the dinner, an OSA representative presented each of the IONS KOALA travel grant recipients with a certificate:
DSC00797The CIAN international travel grant was incredibly generous, but didn’t quite cover my entire trip. Transpacific flights are expensive!



Apparently they’re Norfolk Island pines, not fake Christmas trees.

After the conference wrapped up, I spent the weekend exploring New Zealand with a local friend. One of the first things I said to her was, “Why are your trees so weird?” Seriously, check these out:

IONS KOALA was a fantastic adventure, especially because the Student Optics Chapter at the University of Arizona was just informed that we’ll be hosting our own IONS conference in the Fall. I’m definitely looking forward to drawing on my experiences in New Zealand while helping organize an IONS conference here in the US. I hope we can replicate that atmosphere of enthusiasm for Optics!



Jasmine Sears is pursuing her Ph.D. in Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, having previously received her B.S. from Caltech. She works in the Quantum Nano-Optics of Semiconductors group under Professor Galina Khitrova, growing and characterizing quantum structures. She is also active in student government as the current Assembly Chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Council and an Outreach Co-chair of the Student Optics Chapter. Her interests include explaining cool science phenomena and making chocolates.

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