It has been a great year for online research talks. I have listened to mathematical relativity talks from places like Poland, Vienna, and Tübingen, including by top experts, while at home in Brisbane, Australia. This is thanks to centralised coordinating by Piotr Chruściel and others. I have “been to” relativity conferences in Taiwan and Belarus, and a summer school in Vienna. One talk I randomly discovered was particularly unique, by 79 year old Yvette Kosmann-Schwarzbach on the history of the Noether theorems. (One takeaway message: many authors claimed generalisations but hadn’t read the original papers; only since the 1970s have legitimate generalisations appeared.)
At my university, lectures switched to online in March. Many research groups followed suit, soon afterwards. The usual stream of PhD progress talks has continued. For physics, exams have been online, with no supervision: you download the exam questions PDF when it becomes available, then upload your answers a few hours later. Overall, the research world seemed to adapt quickly. After all, people are used to working on their computers, and even video conferencing. The photo shows how empty my campus was in April, but many people have returned now.
Of course covid19 has been difficult (or devastating) for many, I don’t deny this, but am focusing on one positive outcome here. It is a rare opportunity to hear niche research talks without flying around the world and filling up the atmosphere with CO2. I hope that both this availability, and the environmental friendliness, continue.