Have a CARE for lower CO2 emissions

6 Nov 2019

The symposium is in Tokyo, Washington? Traveling to conferences often takes up large amounts of time and harms the environment, says Professor Martha Merrow. So she has organized the first Carbon-Reduced (CARE) Conference, which takes place on Novembe...

The strange thing about the CARE Conference is that invited speakers and registered participants are expressly requested not to turn up, specifically those who would have to fly to get to it. The invitations to the first Carbon-Reduced Conference (CARE) organized by Professor Martha Merrow of the Institute for Medical Psychology at LMU stipulate that those wishing to attend should make use of carbon-reduced modes of transportation to get to Munich. “The reactions have been very positive,” she says. “One of the invited participants plans to make the trip from Frankfurt to Munich on his bicycle,” says Merrow.

Those who live beyond cycling distance from the venue can nevertheless take part in the event without having to be physically present in the conference hall. Speakers from overseas can deliver their talks (and follow those of other participants) via streaming. But does this not give short shrift to the international give-and-take which is the lifeblood of science? Not necessarily. “To facilitate discussions and personal interactions, we have set up ‘virtual hubs’ at the universities in Zürich, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Porto Alegre and at Harvard, where interested researchers can congregate and follow the lectures live,” Merrow explains. “Hubs of this sort also provide useful forums in which non-specialists can be introduced to the field. Chronobiology and CARE conference – A ‘cure’ for jetlag

The first CARE conference in Munich aims to reduce the carbon emissions associated with intercontinental air travel. Perhaps not surprisingly, the event itself is devoted to chronobiology (a subject that is intimately related to another unfortunate side-effect of long-distance flights – jetlag). Chronobiology is a somewhat esoteric discipline, but the insights gained by its practitioners have broad implications for many other, more prominent, research areas. In particular, Medicine, Psychology and Economics benefit from the growth in knowledge of how our biological clocks affect us all. A digital symposium on a research area that has such broad relevance makes a great deal of sense. However, it might be thought to lack one important ingredient – those informal get-togethers after the last talk or poster of the day, which are an indispensable feature of all symposia. “Of course, a digital conference cannot be a big networking event, but there are lots of other opportunities for that sort of thing,” Merrow points out. “And there’s no reason why the virtual hubs cannot organize their own post-conference gatherings.”

The virtual hubs will not only receive streamed content in real time, some of the sessions will also have an interactive component. Viewers of the live stream can send questions directly to the conference hall and to the other virtual hubs. “We hope that this will give rise to lively exchanges over long distances,” Merrow says. What about those who happen to take part via a non-interactive hub? “Here too, participants can carry on discussions with participants in the hall via our hashtag on Twitter.” In this way, such comments can also find their way into the conference proceedings.

Professor Merrow views the first CARE Conference as an experiment. “It is our intention to extend the use of format, so we will analyze the course of this first conference with great care,” she says. Professor Anne Frenzel (Faculty of Psychology) will be closely involved with the post-conference assessment. Together with her Master’s students, she has taken on the task of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the novel conference format. Meanwhile, Professor Merrow hopes that the principle of streamed conferences will be adopted by other research communities. Then everyone could save time – and help reduce CO2 emissions.

For further information on the First CARE Conference on The Circadian Clock and its Pervasive Impact on Metabolism, click here .

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