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NBIA INTERACTIONS POSTDOCTORAL PROGRAMME

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INTERACTIONS (NBIA INTERACTIONS POSTDOCTORAL PROGRAMME)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-12-31

INTERACTIONS is an EU-COFUND program of scientific excellence rooted in the tradition of internationalization and informal interactions that have characterized the Niels Bohr Institute since its inception one hundred years ago. By teaming up with five partner institutions in Europe we have ensured the possibility of extended visits to what we consider the closest scientific partner institutions in Europe. This opportunity for fellows is provided in order to ensure that highest-level expertise and scientific partnership is available at all time for the INTERACTIONS fellows. The overarching subject matter is fundamental research in physics and all related areas. The extension to all related areas is taken literally and it is also part of the interdisciplinary heritage of the Niels Bohr Institute. Several of our INTERACTIONS fellows work, for example, on issues very close to life sciences in what has been dubbed Active Matter. This describes the constantly on-going non-equilibrium processes of living organisms in terms of physical laws rather than genetic code. It illustrates how boundaries between different disciplines can form exciting interfaces where new ideas evolve in unexpected ways. Likewise, one INTERACTIONS fellows has worked on a membrane so tiny that quantum mechanical laws need to be taken into account, again with potential applications to physical membranes in living systems. As another example, INTERACTIONS fellows from theoretical particle physics today work on predictions of gravitational wave signals from the merging of two black holes, illustrating how the formalism of quantum field theory can lead to entirely new approaches towards solving Einstein's general theory of relativity. Ensuring the scientific environment that facilitates these creative ways of thinking through informal interactions with peers working in totally different research areas is one of the primary goals of the INTERACTIONS COFUND program.
The program opened with the full palette of subjects of the original contract augmented by the new subject of "Quantum Information and Quantum Mathematics". Formally, this area could be covered by the "Condensed Matter Physics and Quantum Devices" that was mentioned in the original proposal, but we decided to split this subject up so as to reflect the rapidly increasing interest in quantum computing and quantum informatics, as also evidenced by the large amounts of funds the EU now allocates to this new and strategic subject.

Considering the difficult situation due to COVID, there has been remarkably good progress on the scientific side of the project. As evident from the publication list, results have already appeared in prestigious journals such as Nature (and many others). The core of the program, the informal contacts between INTERACTIONS fellows among themselves and with staff at the Niels Bohr Institute have clearly not been what we had hoped for. Instead, the informal interactions have had to take mostly on virtual platforms for almost the full duration of the program so far. Copenhagen University has very recently opened up cautiously and we have already taken initiatives to start informal gatherings for lunches and at tea-time (see also below).

The regular seminar programs halted or turned to virtual meetings during the last two years but at intermittent periods we were running with physical meetings where INTERACTIONS fellows could safely interact with local scientists. One of INTERACTIONS fellows managed to deliver public lectures in Copenhagen: Michele Levi speaking on "Gravitational Waves - the revolution in gravitational physics". Others participated in what is called "Culture Night" in Copenhagen, where the public is invited to join for free public institutions one evening/night to learn about the work being done there. Towards the end of 2021 we also finally managed to arrange for a joint INTERACTIONS day where all fellows could meet with social distancing and present their work to each other. This meeting also included a program on soft-skill training and career development for young researchers.
The overall objective of the program is research training at highest level. By providing a stimulating interdisciplinary environment that allows the INTERACTIONS fellows to unleash their full potential we drive new and innovative ideas and, at the same time, provide the fellows with an experience they can carry forward to new avenues after their fellowship period. Why is this important for society? Time and again history tells us that the biggest strides in society come from free and uninhibited thinking of daring and creative individuals. By training young scientists to think out of the box they may be the ones who come up with ideas that could not have been imagined if we were to be restricted by linear thinking. We hope that the researchers we train today will be tomorrow's leaders, be that in fundamental research or in applied contexts, through the entrepreneurship that will provide the solutions to tomorrow's societal challenges.

With the pandemic hopefully behind us, and with a new group of INTERACTIONS fellows joining us this year, we hope to finally open up towards all the possibilities fellows have under this COFUND program. One observation we already have made is that individual fellows may have good reasons to choose to visit other research institutions than those five institutions, which have originally committed resources to this program. If beneficial to the fellow’s research plans, and with the approval of the scientific mentors, we are open towards such a slight deviation from the original proposal.

In order to start a more interactive environment already at this early stage of opening up we have established a so-called Slack channel, a virtual meeting room that shares some similarities with a combination of Zoom, Facebook, and other social platforms. We have planned a new INTERACTIONS Day already on March 18 where a physicist who now works in Denmark's largest bank will come and present a case study of what it means to transit from academia to the private sector. At the same meeting we will also have an established scientist explain his/her views on how to succeed in academia.

So far those INTERACTIONS fellows who have already completed their fellowships have either obtained permanent or tenure-track positions at universities or continued with a career in research based on temporary contracts, exactly as envisioned. Longer-term we expect to see some of the INTERACTIONS fellows move to towards the private or public sectors.

If viewed in a socio-economic context we believe our INTERACTIONS fellows on the basis of this COFUND program will give back to society far more than they have received during their relatively brief fellowship periods. Academically, we have found our fellows to by the cream of the crop, a statement we can support by the observation that several fellows simultaneously (or shortly afterwards) received individual fellowships under the MSCA program and/or received faculty offers at leading universities in Europe. This group of people consists of the overachievers that will lead future generations in Europe.
Researchers interacting in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Researchers interacting in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Interactions Fellows Day 2021 in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Interactions Fellows Day 2021 in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Interactions Fellows Day 2021 in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Researchers interacting in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Interactions Fellows Day 2021 in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Researchers interacting in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Interactions Fellows Day 2021 in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Interactions Fellows Day 2021 in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute
Interactions Fellows Day 2021 in the famous Auditorium A at The Niels Bohr Institute