The location of the conference cycles between all the places where University nuclear groups are based, and this year we are in York. Fortunately all the UK groups are based in pretty interesting places, except for my home institution, so I always get to travel somewhere more interesting than where I live at conference time.
The purpose of the conference is split into sharing the latest academic news and networking. They probably both carry about equal weight. Although we can keep up with each others' work by seeing what papers we publish in journals and the arXiv, there's nothing quite like being away from your desk, and listening to people describe their work to get a good idea of what's going on. On the social side, the conference is a great way to help build a sense of community in the UK groups. Science research is sort-of international in scale, but also sort-of national. At the basic level of science ideas, the community is worldwide, but part of research life is working within the organisational framework of your country, its institutions and funding mechanisms. We spend some time together to help us act together as a community, and part of the conference will be a town meeting with representatives from the funding council STFC to talk through some of the political aspects of research.
Part of the networking and socialising will be in the form of visits to the pub in the evening, no doubt, and there is a conference banquet for the purpose of penalising the person to speak first in the morning after it. I, fortunately, am speaking in the first morning, about the kinky lead phenomenon I blogged about before.
I decided to come up a bit early and book a separate hotel for a one-night holiday before the conference started. At the top is a picture of me by York Minster, in deference to how tourists are expected to behave.