2023 is over and I am looking back at my achievements and failures, to take stock and try to learn something from the matter. This blog looks like a reasonably good place for such an exercise, so I am writing here an inventory of what happened to me in the past 12 months. Sorry if this sounds very boring!
2023 has been the first year of my serving as a president of the USERN organization. USERN (https://usern.tums.ac.ir, for Universal Scientific Education and Research Network) is a large network of scientists - it counts about 25,000 members worldwide - which aims to foster interdisciplinary and international scientific research, as well as a culture of sharing scientific knowledge across borders. USERN offers cash prizes and a small research fund to five selected under-40 researchers who distinguished for innovations in five macro-areas of scientific research at its yearly congress, and creates the conditions for collaborative endeavours, particularly looking at the developing world, where scientists may have less easy access to resources, data, and networking. I accepted the charge of president (at our November 2022 congress in Muscat, Oman) with the determination to increase the reach of our organization and improve its visibility. I did some of that, but I must say I was not able to fully achieve those goals. I can only hope that next year I will find some extra time to seek new sponsors, organize events, and create new collaborations with universities who may want to partner with us.

From the end of January to mid February 2023, my research activities suffered a halt, because I went on a long vacation in south America. The trip included the following: an appearance as an extra in a contemporary opera performance at the Moneda in Santiago; two nights observing the southern sky from the clear skies of San Pedro de Atacama, using a 50cm Dobson scope at Alan Maury's observation site; a visit to one of the proposed sites of the SWGO gamma-ray observatory, at high-altitude in the andes (Pampalabola, 4800m above sea level); a visit to the Very Large Telescope of Cerro Paranal; and a cruise around the south-west archipelago of the Galapagos islands. Perhaps these were the best spent three weeks of my entire year!

During February I also spent countless hours putting together a grant application for a very cool project bringing together physicists and computer scientists to work on co-design of hardware and software of future experiments. Unfortunately, while the funding agency (the EU) found the project excellent (they even gave us a "Seal of Excellence" before retracting it when they realized this was not the correct procedure for that particular funding line, but the evaluation confirmed that assessment), they did not have the funds to support it. So the collaboration I created (MODE, mode-collaboration.github.io) to study the end-to-end optimization of particle physics experiments with differentiable programming continued its operations without any specific funding allocation, oh well. 

I spent three months (March to May, with a few hiatuses for trips to Brazil and Canada) in northern Sweden to learn about neuromorphic computing. I was invited to the Computer Science department of Lulea University of Technology by Prof. Fredrik Sandin, who is an expert in that area of studies. These were three cold but very productive months for me, as I could concentrate on the topic and seek ways to apply the potential and peculiarities of neuromorphic computing to the design of particle detectors. During those months I also coded a spiking neural network model of a tracking detector, which was the basis of a research project still ongoing - a publication is in progress on that topic. So I would say my stay in Sweden was very successful, and in fact I am planning for more such stays in the coming few years, as Sandin's groud won funds to invite me for more periods there. 

During the spring I also made trips to a SWGO collaboration meeting in Rio de Janeiro, to a workshop on systematic uncertainties in physics analyses organized in Banff, and to a PhD school in Erice. I enjoyed a lot in particular the trip to Brazil, which allowed me to mingle with a community -astrophysicists- that I do not have much experience with. In Banff I could touch bases with statisticians from Carnegie-Mellon University who work with me on particle physics problems, and that was quite fruitful too, from a scientific standpoint. In Erice I think I gave a killer lecture at a PhD school in machine learning for high-energy physics, as I got rave feedback from it. So the balance is highly in the positive from these travel sprees.

The summer saw me busy with completing a few publications, in particular working hard on a software for end-to-end optimization of the SWGO experiment which almost drove me crazy. But I pulled it off, and with my collaborators we published a very important article on that topic at the end of September. In July I visited Princeton where we ran the third MODE workshop. That was nice, but in retrospect I think I did too little in making that event a success - we had too few participants in person to the event. If I have to draw some conclusions from it, I would say that in order to have success in organizing a machine learning-leaning event these days you have to start early and energetically oblige key speakers to come. I don't do that too well, so I will have to improve that skill in the future.

in late August I gave some 14 hours of lectures in Statistics for data analysis in Bangalore, to Physics students. It was a great experience going there and interacting with some 50 bright and motivated young gals and guys. I have to say it was quite hard for me to prepare for this trip because my passport was expiring, so I had to renew it while in Sweden, and then obtaining the visa for India was nightmarish. But I would do it again!

I should also mention that during 2023 I supervised two master students in Physics. They both graduated with honors, which made me really proud. But what made me exstatic was to witness their public acknowledgement that I am a good guy as a supervisor. You don't get much of that kind of feedback in that role, usually, and there's always a lot to learn. So things like this twitter post by one of the students I graduated really makes my day! No lesson to learn here - I will keep doing what I have been doing until now, if I can!

In early October I visited Prague for the first time in my life, in occasion of the SWGO collaboration meeting there. Prague is a fantastic place, and I will need to visit it again in the future. Science-wise, I had worked hard for one full year to produce a model of the SWGO experiment, and had excellent results to show there. But I made a grave error when I uploaded the wrong file to the workshop web page just half an hour before my talk, and I ended up discussing an outdated version of the slides, in a rather pointless presentation, as the last speaker of the morning session. I used my academic powers to force a tweak of the afternoon session to speak again and somehow correct the mistake, but the damage had been done already. Lesson learned: have only one file with the presentation, no more N versions. Linux, not VMS style!

The fall saw me busy with my course of particle physics for Statistics master students, but also with a few other projects. I ended up submitting no less than three grant applications between September and November, and overall I am waiting for a response from a total of 5 applications for funds! One of these is a training network, another is a joint project with Sweden on neutrino detector optimization, a third concerns muon tomography with an Estonian partner, a fourth a calorimeter optimization project with a Spanish grant provider, and a fifth is an Italian call (a sort of Italian version of Advanced ERCs). I predict that I should win one of these, which would already be nice. If I did not get any of these approved I would seriously be pissed, though, as I did spend a lot of time writing these applications! So an evaluation of this work is not yet possible, and will have to wait for a couple more months.

On November 8-10 we had our USERN congress in Yerevan. One not-work-related project I had worked my butt out on during the full 2023 was the reaching a decent level in playing Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat mayor, Op. 53. I think I pulled that off, and I performed it in front of the congress audience on the opening day, along with Schumann's "Traumerei", Kinderszenen n.7. I also accompanied Kalliopi who sang three songs. It was nice, but also quite stressful for me to perform in front of a large audience. Overall, the lesson learned is: lots of satisfaction, but huge time investment, and a stress level I don't know I can continue to afford. Meanwhile, I already proposed to the local organizers of the QCHS conference in Cairns (I am a member of the scientific committee of that event, and will indeed participate to it next August) to play a chamber music gala there... So, lesson NOT learned in this respect.

Finally, in December I gave an online seminar which got over 500 registered participants. I think that is sort of a record for me (I remember speaking in front of 1100 participants to a TEDx Antwerp talk in 2011, but a scientific seminar is another story).

Overall, 2023 was a mixed year. Some hectic travel, mostly pleasant though; lots of grant applications, deadlines and related stress included. I published a few machine-learning papers of relevance, gave some notable talks here and there, and produced some 8000 lines of code that aim to show the way to how to do business with detector design in the future. We will have to see if I manage to get the message through, though. 

2024 promises to be no less hectic in terms of obligations and travel. But I look forward to the spring, when my stay in Lulea should provide the kind of meditative environment for good science. To be continued, if I continue to be breathing and kicking!