Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On a workshop on Dynamics in Complex Environments at #TellurideScience (TSRC)

In 2001, I co-organized my first TSRC Workshop on the Chemical Dynamics in Complex Environments (CHEM-DiCE). We've held this workshop biennially ever since, and the latest meeting of our group convened on June 25th! That's 7 workshops across 13 years with about 100 scientists. Not more than that because several of our participants (such as myself!) come back. Following the spirit of the TSRC workshops, we have always aimed to include participants in equal numbers whose research centers in theory or experiment. Meanwhile, computational science is well represented because simulations are invariably performed by both!

The term "complex environments" was relatively new back when we started, but is now much more prevalent. The idea behind the term was motivated by the need to create a contrast to systems—such as reacting molecules or folding proteins—that exhibit complex motions—dynamics—regardless of their surroundings. Meanwhile, large surroundings can do amazing things, such as crystallize or conduct, nearly independently of any given atom or molecule within it. So we wanted to put this together, and ask about small systems that are strongly interacting with their surroundings and vice versa. It turns out that such dynamics in complex environments occurs in many subfields of chemistry and physics. So our TSRC workshop brings in experts from three or four such subfields that usually don't overlap at typical meetings. The presentations focus on theoretical and computational techniques have helped a given subfield and what puzzles remain. Such techniques may be useful for the other subfields or may have analogues that hadn't been previously connected. It's common for a speaker to spend most of their allotted hour answering fundamental questions that allows the rest of the group to better understand what they are doing. Going that deeply into the concepts underlying someone else's science enables a cross-pollination of ideas that is difficult to do in other venues. (In financial speak, I would reiterate this statement by saying that collaborative culture spanning different market segments is an integral component of the value proposition for staging and attending TSRC's!)

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