President of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, together with 1766 participants from 77 countries added glamour to the ‘8th European Congress of Mathematics’, held between 20-25 June, 2021.
The 8th European Congress of Mathematics took place in the Grand Hotel Bernardin in Portorož, Slovenia, during 20-25 June 2021. It was organized by a team from the University of Primorska in Koper, led by Klavdija Kutnar and Tomaž Pisanski, with participation of other institutions in Slovenia.
The Congress was originally planned to be held in July 2020 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In view of the continuing uncertainty, the organizers decided in Spring 2021 to run it in hybrid mode.
1,766 delegates, 77 countries at the ECM
The event attracted the biggest audience so far in the history of these congresses, with 1766 participants from 77 countries, about 200 of which came to the venue while the majority participated via the Zoom Webinar system at a reduced congress fee. The organizers hired the congress center of the hotel with lecture rooms of different sizes, supported by efficient internet. (Unfortunately, connectivity in hotel rooms was not sufficiently stable to follow the events.)
Lecturers on the location were offered the possibility of lecturing live in front of an audience, with streaming via Zoom. Some lectures given remotely were also projected in an auditorium. Smaller events such as minisymposia mainly took place in online mode. Every lecture was monitored by a technical expert.
Speaker, session chair as panelists
To avoid disruption, especially during plenary and invited talks with large audiences, only the speaker and the session chair had the role of panelists during the talk. Participants could ask questions after the talk or type them in the Zoom system to be communicated by the session chair. In smaller settings such as minisymposia, all participants appeared as panelists, thereby enabling them to see each other.
It was possible to reserve rooms for individual discussions. The website was well organized and helpful. Every participant received individualized access to the schedule with clear instructions on how to connect. Technical support was excellent. There were many accompanying activities and cultural events.
An eventful 8th ECM
In my opinion, the event was very successful, the organization was seamless, and the organizers deserve to be highly commended for their effort, especially in light of the adverse circumstances. Having said that, I wish to add that the human dimension of a live event was largely missing. In my opinion, online events should not become standard.
The organizers made every effort to encourage participants to come to the venue, with poor success. There was indeed no convincing reason not to come, at least for vaccinated Europeans. The pandemic was in remission, and hotels arranged reasonable precautions. Indeed, the Adriatic coast was full of tourists during the entire summer; so, why not to come to the congress?
The sentiment is that warnings and restrictions imposed by governments and university administrators played a role. One is led to wonder whether governments and their advisers do not believe their narratives on the efficacy of vaccines. It is being demonstrated once again what humanity has known since time immemorial—that nature can always throw another nonlinear term in any equation.
By Franc Forstnerič
University of Ljubljana
This editorial was first published IMU.