When so much can be done through the Internet now, you sometimes hear people wonder what physically going to conferences accomplishes that can't be done with IT. While it is true you could probably do the equivalent of individual symposia on the Internet, part of what makes MRS so interesting is how much is going on at the same time all in close proximity and the flexibility it allows. My Tuesday was a good show of this. Basically all the AI talks I went to today were a spur of the moment thing when I realized some of my symposium sessions today were focused on subtopics I was less interested in and thought the forum was a good place to learn about a new trend in the broader field.
During a break in the afternoon NM08 symposium, I went to the exhibitors' hall and saw the manufacturer of an old piece of equipment in my lab had a booth there. I struck up a conversation with them about how we had an older model of the version on display at their booth, and in 5 minutes they promised to send me some tutorial materials so I could train myself back in Virginia and answered several questions I had about the compatibility of the technique with my chemicals. Lots of companies bring things to demo or at least look at, and one instrument-maker even managed to bring a scanning electron microscope to the exhibition hall!
After the break, I went back to the AI forum to hear the panel discussion and got to ask a question at the end. I then heard the last talk in NM08 and then walked next door to hear a talk about porous carbons for catalysis applications. After that was the poster session where I was presenting my research, which was another place for serendipity. First, a really established researcher in my subfield came by and commented on my work and even suggested a characterization technique for me and said to email him to ask him a question. Around that time, a graduate student told me about a recently published paper I hadn't heard of that was really relevant to my methodology. Then, another person recommended a company I should talk to about my research to see if they were interested in funding it or providing research samples.
After the poster session, I went to the MRS publications reception, where I met Judy, two of the other bloggers (Araceli and Jiajia), an MRS editor, and one of the AI panelists who answered my question in the afternoon and then recommended an activity at Fall MRS I might be interested in.
I realize some of these things could happen through internet or phone conversations, but it would take longer, probably not save much effort, and I honestly don't think some of the more spontaneous things would happen. (One of the people coming by my poster said they were interested because they saw my title had a colloid term that is infrequently used in nanoparticle research.) Coming to MRS facilitated all of these things and I have clearer action items to follow up on instead of beginning several of these ideas with cold calls to people I don't know.