The ABCs of ICPS: An Alphabetical Guide to the International Conference of Physics Students

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Meeting Notes - SPS Reporters at Science Conferences

The ABCs of ICPS: An Alphabetical Guide to the International Conference of Physics Students


Megan Anderson, William Jewell College, 2018–19 SPS Executive Committee Member, Associate Zone Councilor Representative

Thanks to SPS, I traveled over 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers) this past August to represent the United States at the International Conference of Physics Students in Cologne, Germany.

The ICPS 2019 group photo taken in the Cologne City Hall where participants were welcomed by the mayor of Cologne. Photo courtesy of Stefano Ugliano.

Technically, though, my journey began a little over a year ago when I was elected to the associate zone councilor (AZC) position for Zone 12. This meant that I would sit on the SPS National Council, supporting and representing SPS chapters in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. My fellow AZCs then elected me to be their representative on the Executive Committee. Since SPS is a member of the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS), one of my associated duties was serving as the IAPS United States delegate.The bulk of the work takes place during the International Conference of Physics Students, an event I explain alphabetically below.

A: Acronyms — The main one you need to remember is “ICPS,” which stands for the International Conference of Physics Students, a yearly gathering with about 500 (you guessed it) physics students. This is the largest and most anticipated event organized by the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS).

B: Booklet — An informational treasure trove given before the conference that has the answer to just about every logistical question you could ask.

C: Cologne Carnival — An annual festival in Cologne, Germany, that includes costumes and celebrations. The main events occur in late fall and early spring, but the fantastic 2019 Organizing Committee made it possible for me and the other ICPS attendees to enjoy some of the festivities during one summer night of the conference.

D: Dancing — It happens at many of the ICPS social evenings! We learned a few formal steps at the introductory workshop on Sunday night, but it turns out that classics such as the YMCA and Macarena transcend national borders. During Carnival Night, a spontaneous conga line even formed!

E: Elephant — The adorable mascot of the German Physical Society. See letter G.

F: Fifty — The approximate number of countries represented at ICPS 2019.

G: German Physical Society — With over 60,000 members and a 174-year history, the German Physical Society (DPG) is the oldest and largest organization of physicists in the world. Student members of this society served as the ICPS organizers this year.

H: Happy — The feeling you get when surrounded by hundreds of students from around the world who care about physics as much as you do.

I: International — The word that comes up over and over again in conversation, both explicitly as you discuss IAPS and ICPS and more subtly as you talk with people from countries largely unknown to you.

J: Jokes — The only way you’ll survive the Annual General Meeting, an event full of tedious legal proceedings and international cooperation. Only delegates are required to attend, but a few other brave souls may join in solidarity.

K: Klaus von Klitzing — A Nobel laureate whose work helped redefine the kilogram. He was an ICPS plenary speaker and an excellent storyteller. He shared about his initial work on semiconductors, discovery of the integer quantum Hall effect, and accidental entry into the world of measurements as well as humorous observations regarding the scientific community (for an example of this, search “NASA vs ESA excitement level”).

L: Languages — You’ll be surrounded by people who speak many different languages, though English is the official language of the conference. Lucky us!

M: Mexico — The location of next year’s ICPS. (It’s the first time ICPS is taking place outside Europe, which makes it much more convenient for US students to attend ICPS 2020!)

N: Nations Evening — The social event everyone eagerly anticipates, where students make and share traditional foods from home. It’s like speed dating but with countries.

O: Overwhelmed — The feeling you get when walking around the tables during Nations Evening. But it’s a, “What amazing thing will happen next?” kind of overwhelmed.

P: PB&Js —The edible fare provided by the US contingent at Nations Evening.

Q: Questions — Keep asking them! When else will you be surrounded by people from so many different backgrounds and with so many different specialties and perspectives?

R: Reflect — Conversations naturally led me to reflect a bit more on my experience as a physics student, young researcher, and US citizen. I used part of the plane ride home to journal about these reflections, and I suspect I’ll continue to process them in the months to come.

S: Support — Something you begin to feel as strangers become friends.

T: Talks — You’ll have the opportunity to go to lots of these, from those given by student speakers to presentations by established physicists (refer back to K).

U: Umbrella — What you carry around for days on end because the forecast keeps playing with the idea of rain.

V: Vote — What you do if you’re a delegate at the aforementioned Annual General Meeting. During the year, the delegate responsibilities are mainly confined to communicating with their regional or national organization and attending periodic online meetings hosted by the IAPS Executive Committee. Then comes ICPS, when all of us delegates spend hours upon hours reading through governing and regulatory documents, proposing and discussing amendments, and voting on all proposed changes as well as membership motions.

W: Water — Be warned: Europeans love drinking sparkling water and, incidentally, may forget to mention to you that virtually every bottle of water they provide is carbonated.

X: Xenial — The atmosphere of the conference. (I may or may not have learned this word just to have a good “x” entry, but it’s actually quite fitting! It essentially means “friendly.”)

Y: Yes — The word that leads to spicy Chinese noodles, a dance lesson with a Hungarian, collaboration with a Croatian, and everything in between.

Z: Zzzzs — Don’t expect to get many of them! But don’t worry—you can catch up after the conference and be ready to go again next year!

Accommodations for ICPS were located within walking distance of the Cologne Cathedral, right across the Rhine River. Photo courtesy of Megan Anderson.

Who would’ve thought that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches could require explanation?! Thank you to Mohammad Moosajee for capturing this moment and helping make this mountain of sandwiches. Photo courtesy of Megan Anderson.

Want to experience this for yourself? Go to for information on ICPS 2020!

Are you interested in serving on the SPS National Council? Learn more at Elections are in the spring!

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