The week-long event dictates the deadline of particle physics and astrophysics experiments around, as every collaboration wants to show updated results of their searches and measurements in that venue, to have a share of the spotlights. This means that you can bet the month of June was a hectic one for ATLAS and CMS collaborators alike (but also those of LHCb and ALICE, just to mention the main four CERN endeavours).
In practice it works this way: six months ago you were working at some analysis in your experiment, and applied to the "talk committee" (or similar name) to deliver a presentation at ICHEP of your newest results, which are close to be finalized. After some time, the committee decides to grant you the honor of representing the collaboration at the conference.
You register on the conference web site, buy plane tickets, book hotel room, and then go back to your analysis, working overtime to produce the wanted results. But this requires presenting the update of your analysis at a number of different meetings in series. And since everybody is doing the same thing, there is a congestion that grows more and more severe as the conference date approaches.
Eventually, it's make it or break it: not all analyses will manage to be approved in time, as some of them will be found lacking some detail or in need of some revamping by their specific review committee. So this explains why this week, starting today, you are going to hear a number of new results coming out of particle physics experiments: they were produced for ICHEP.
As for me, I am not in Seoul. First of all, I do not like much the huge conference concept: if you have more than 300 people in the room the chance that you manage to grab a mike and ask a question to the speaker, if you have a good one to ask (or even if you don't) becomes very small. Then what is the point of being there? You can jolly well browse the slides offline. Also, the need to create talk occasions for many speakers (many speakers equal lots of conference fee money) demands the creation of many parallel sessions.
Now, parallel sessions can be a good thing as they recreate the situation where a conversation can be had, but they are also detrimental as you, as a participant, have to choose between a large number of things you are interested in, and run from one venue to the other like a fool for a week, often missing the interesting talk anyway as the schedule is never perfectly kept by conveners.
Ok, maybe I am a bit negative with these big events. In any case, I would not have been able to attend to ICHEP this year, because I had chosen to be on vacation in the first week of July - in fact, I am presently in front of one of the most gorgeous beaches of the Mediterranean, the one of Falasarna, in western Crete...
Besides, I could not have attended the conference anyway, as I am presently just recovering from a four-day-long high-fever condition, caused by a quite nasty urinary infection. Yes, these were very effective vacations, from a work point of view: I did not waste a single work day with my sickness. I only wasted the chance to swim in the awesome sea I can only see from my apartment window.
Tommaso Dorigo is an experimental particle physicist who works for the INFN at the University of Padova, and collaborates with the CMS experiment at the CERN LHC. He coordinates the European network AMVA4NewPhysics as well as research in accelerator-based physics for INFN-Padova, and is an editor of the journal Reviews in Physics. In 2016 Dorigo published the book “Anomaly! Collider physics and the quest for new phenomena at Fermilab”. You can get a copy of the book on Amazon.