Interview with Dr. Gertrude Bunt and Prof. Fred S. Wouters on the FOM 2015

"FOM brings a large number of scientists closer together, creating a collective genius moment."

Only a few days to go before the start of Focus on Microscopy 2015 in Göttingen, Germany. This year’s FOM is being organized by Dr. Gertrude Bunt and Prof. Dr. Fred S. Wouters from the University Medical Center, Göttingen, in cooperation with Prof. Dr. G.J. (Fred) Brakenhoff, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. We interviewed them on the challenges of organizing this conference and on the significance of the FOM for further developments in microscopy.



What does it mean to you that the FOM is being held in Göttingen this year?

Bunt: Together with my local co-organizer Fred Wouters, we have put a lot of effort for some time in getting the FOM to Göttingen and we are delighted that it is now going to take place. Göttingen has a strong reputation in microscopy and we felt that the nature of the FOM conference series reflects the research environment here. We have groups that develop new microscopy techniques and instrumentation, and researchers generally heavily use advanced microscopy for their biological and biomedical research. Initiatives like the interdisciplinary DFG research Center for Nanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain (CNMPB) have stimulated interactions between the "developers" and "users" of new techniques. The widespread presence of microscopy in Göttingen's research landscape therefore has provided fertile ground for innovative and high quality research.

We are extremely happy with the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Göttingen's own Prof. Stefan Hell for his super-resolution light microscopy work, which has come at precisely the right time for this year's conference. As Prof. Hell has already participated in the FOM conferences for many years, the FOM attendees have been able to follow, at first hand, the developments that have culminated in the Nobel prize. We look forward to celebrating with Prof. Hell and have organized a special opening session on super-resolution microscopy.

What are the greatest challenges for you as organizer in staging a conference like the FOM in Göttingen?

Wouters: Unfortunately, Göttingen doesn’t have a conference center. So the first major challenge was to find a suitable venue for the FOM at all. The experience of past years enabled an accurate estimate of the conditions that would be needed:  5 parallel sessions with predefined audience sizes, a suitable exhibition space for companies and many more small organization details, such as catering for roughly a thousand participants. So as the local organizers, Dr. Bunt and I embarked on this difficult search and eventually found the "Lokhalle", a building that was formerly used for the repair and maintenance of train engines.  The time came when it was no longer needed for this purpose and it was then turned into a multi-functional hall that hosts regular large concerts and sports events.

Every time an event is staged here, the Lokhalle is re-converted to cater for the widely different purposes. This great flexibility was very important for us. Luckily, Stefanie Golke from Göttingen’s business development agency GWG (the operators of the Lokhalle) gave us highly competent support as regards planning, technical aspects and logistics. The FOM has turned out to be larger than we first anticipated, so we had to step up the capacities at a relatively late stage in the planning process. For instance, holding a 6th forum is only possible at a location like the Lokhalle.

What we particularly like about the Lokhalle as a venue for the FOM is its unique industrial atmosphere as a historical industrial monument. It’s perfect for the technical instrument side of microscopy.

How will the Göttingen FOM be different from other FOM conferences?

Wouters: This year’s FOM will be far larger than ever before – not only more scientists will be attending, but there will be more participants from industry, too. On top of that, we have the opportunity this year to celebrate Professor Hell’s Nobel Prize. We’ll be doing this during the opening ceremony; after that there will be a super-resolution session every day of the conference. Despite the vast floor space at our disposal, we have made sure to divide it up into "cozy" areas connected by paths that are as short as possible.

Which topics on the FOM 2015 agenda are you looking forward to most?

Bunt: A strong theme in the last years has been the Nobel-crowned super-resolution techniques. It is interesting to see many groups now using the new possibilities offered by these approaches for their biological and biomedical research questions. Another upcoming interesting field for me are the tomographic imaging techniques for large biological specimens and the connected "clearing of tissues". The general "fluorescence" themes are always exciting as these sessions are veritable grab bags of clever new ideas.

My expectations are to hear about exciting new microscopic developments and their applications, brought in the open and "familial" atmosphere that typifies the FOM conferences. I wish to see many people enjoy and discuss each other’s research and return home inspired with new ideas.

How do you rate the significance of the FOM for the further development of methods and applications in microscopy?

Wouters: There are two main aspects that make the FOM so special:
Firstly, designers of microscopic systems and techniques meet users of high-quality microscopes here and secondly, the FOM sees itself as a platform for young scientists and new ideas. Also, the extremely wide spectrum of topics covered leads to interesting synergies and makes the FOM a trendsetter in developments in microscopy.

With this in mind, we have included a quotation that underlines this aspect in our welcome address. They are the words of Mr. Lichtenberg, Germany’s first experimental physicist and a famous citizen of 18th century Göttingen: "Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together." Every year, the FOM brings a large number of scientists “closer together”, creating a collective genius moment!

How important do you consider the cooperation with industry and microscope manufacturers in the context of FOM 2015?

Wouters: In high-end microscopy and its application, industry is always a key partner. The cooperation with industry is essential for the FOM, too. The FOM welcomes and promotes the full scientific participation of industry among the audience, in the lectures, and also with hands-on demonstrations of new products. So the interaction is far more than a matter of financial support. Experience and feedback have shown that companies highly appreciate this opportunity to be involved. Rather than a platform to advertise their products, they use their presentations to show participants from academia the amount of science that goes into the development of new technologies, too.

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