Brijuni conferences

Graduating in theoretical physics, with a project in elementary particle physics, and then doing graduate work in theoretical chemistry I was exposed to two widely disparate subjects. It was inevitable that I had to make comparison between them, and try to find their common ground. First was very mathematical, without much intuitive insight, whilst the second allowed me to visualize many events without too involved math, especially that used in, say, quantum field theory. Yet many processes, if they are stripped from some obvious differences, appeared to have similar physics, which made me believe that the pictures in molecular physics could be used to understand some basic processes among elementary particles. For example, weak interactions are known to violate parity conservation rule, the question is could that be understood by looking at analogous processes in decay of molecules. To find that bridge between the two subjects was one of mine principal goals in the research after the graduate work, as explained in the research interest. For a number of years I tried to discuss these issues with my colleagues in both branches of physics, but only found an impenetrable wall. The standard answer was that they do not know sufficiently of the other subjects to express any opinion on these intriguing questions. That only showed the fear among scientists that by perhaps having wrong opinion may endanger their status in the group where they have certain reputation. This fear springs from two illness of modern science; one, it forces on the scientists to be narrowly specialized, even in one particular branch of science (say, molecular physics), and two, fierce competition among scientists is enforced onto them to be the first "somewhere" and as the result no public mistake should be made that would destroy their position.

Those observations prompted me to think of organizing a meeting where the scientists from widely different branches of physics and chemistry get together and discuss an issue that may have certain common ground. The problem of clusters in the eighties was getting momentum, and the central issue is how the energy is flowing among the constituents to produce the long lived species. The clusters are found in elementary particles (quarks), astrophysics and chemistry, and I thought of bringing those scientists together. However, there was a danger that a) not many scientists would be willing to come and b) they will be talking to a "blank wall". I feared those thoughts and took me some time before making the final decision to go ahead, but I must say that the catalysts was my friend Prof. A. McCaffery, from the Sussex University, who during his visit to me, and hearing my ideas, said "Of course you should go ahead". The conference was organized in 1986, with a help of few supporting friends, and on the Brijuni Island, which was a perfect setting for such a meeting. There were talks from elementary particles physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics and chemistry, and the result was beyond any expectations. After the conference a very good friend of mine Prof. H. Kroto suggested that these meetings should continue on a biannual base, on the topic that is going to be in the limelight in the coming years. Since then the conferences continued, of course with the help of some good friends, and one of them, Prof. M. Quack, from the ETH, gave the name to the series "The Brijuni Conferences".

What are the results? The very fact that the conferences continue shows that they are successful, and in this era of narrow specializations are needed as the bridge that connects various branches of science. Indeed in my experience still great many scientists are reluctant to participate (curiously enough those the least enthusiastic about the interdisciplinarity are in the elementary particle physics), and as a general rule mainly the younger generations. It only shows that they do not see the need to broaden their horizons, they must establish themselves as the leaders in their specializations (a colleague of mine, being asked to be the speaker on several occasions, always answered that he does not read the papers but goes to the conferences on his topic of research where he learns everything he wants to know). On the other hand, those that come find it fantastic to learn from the other fields, not only that but to establish contacts for mutual collaboration. There are many examples of this kind, and for me and mine friends who help me, is the payoff for all the efforts. The speakers are not selected according to the age; in fact the experience is that mixing between ambition (read young) and experience (read old) produces quality.

The Brijuni Conferences are not entirely my own doing. Besides those friends mentioned earlier there were few others. Naming them would perhaps do injustice to those whose help is greatly appreciated but are not mentioned, however, I would also do injustice to those who were enthusiastically supporting the conferences. Those who helped me, especially in the dark years of Croatian war, are (all professors): L. Klasinc, G. Pichler, N.Trinajstic (from Croatia), S. Berry (Chicago), A. Dalgarno (Harvard), T. Ebessen (Strasbourg), W. Klemperer (Harvard), S. Leach (Medoun), J. Murrell (Sussex), P. Toennies (Goettingen). About one in particular I have nice memories, the late Sir W. McCrea, Prof., who attended several conferences, professionally gave me support in the days of development of novel ideas and also honored me twice by being his personal guest at the annual meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, which is held in the Athenaeum. He was one of the few scientists who had courage to "swim against the mainstream".


Enthusiasm for organizing the meeting would not have materialized without financial support. We could not get sponsorship from the professional societies because the meetings span various branches of science. This is why it is to me and my friends very important to mention those who over the years helped the Brijuni Conferences. Croatian Ministry of Science is in the first place, but definitely without the support of the EOARD (European Office of Aerospace Research and Development) there would not have been the series. We also had support from Wolfram Research Inc. and my friends in Systemcom d.o.o. Recently we received a very generous support from NATO, within the Advanced Research Workshop scheme, and Croatian Academy of Science.