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26th General Assembly of the IAU

26th IAU General Assembly succeeded

The Organisation of the Astronomical Conference was a Technically Challenging Task

The 26th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) held in Prague surpassed the attendance of the previous international meeting of astronomers held in Sydney, Australia, Prague hosting almost 750 more participants than Sydney. The fourteen-day conference which took place in August 2006 in the Prague Congress Centre (PCC) was the largest and most significant astronomical event held in Prague for the last 39 years. Despite the high demands both in terms of organisational and technical skills, the Czech organisers as well as the City of Prague were highly successful in providing world-class standards of congress services.

"The Congress was exceptional in many respects. Scientific events of this type are held usually only for 3-5 days. In Prague, prominent scientists from 73 member countries of the IAU held meetings for the period of full two weeks. The congress included 6 symposia, 17 joint discussions, 7 special sessions and 110 committee and division sessions. In addition, 4 plenary lectures of the world’s leading astronomers were delivered. This was probably the longest congress of this size held in the Czech Republic in the last 10 years," stated Zuzana Tesařová, the director of the organising team of the conference and the executive director of the Congress Business Travel (CBT) Ltd. In 650 lectures, the experts assessed the astronomical discoveries of the last 3 years and discussed further international cooperation. This intensive program filled altogether 22 conference rooms. The congress hosted more than 730 speakers, approximately 5 per cent of which came from among the Czech astronomers.

More than 1600 poster presentations were prepared for the participants creating an information area of 4500 m2. "At the end, more than 2600 people including 36 children registered for the congress. These almost 2500 astronomers included also 540 students and 115 senior citizens. The sessions entitled "Women in Astronomy" was attended by more than 250 women," said Zuzana Tesařová, who also observed that the previous IAU congress which took place in 2003 in Sidney was attended by only 1900 people.

High demands on technical and organisational skills

The astronomic congress in Prague was unique due to its length and attendance as well as due to the range and flexibility of the technology employed. A large percentage of the presentations were run from the personal computers of the speakers who often used self-created applications for the data presentation. "We had to harmonise the hardware and software equipment of the congress with the various operational systems and special equipment used by astronomers on their technologically sophisticated laptops. A careful coordination of the technicians was necessary in order to prepare the presentations of 70 or more speakers in the course of half an hour break. Taking into consideration the large number of participants and laptops involved, I think it was a great success that all of the presentations were run without a single failure," claims the executive director of the CBT.

However, the presentation of the lectures was not the only challenge to be tackled by the organising company. The organisation committee was faced with the task to accommodate the presentation of the transnational company International Virtual Observatory Alliance which was one of the 34 presenters at the accompanying exhibition. In the CCP, the representatives of this company introduced for the first time a sophisticated database which allows a quick global electronic access to the data from astronomical observations from anywhere in the world. "In order to allow the presentation of the database, the organisers had to set up in the CCP an Internet connection communicating with the whole world at the speed of 100 Mbps, which is offered only by a limited number of providers in the Czech Republic," remarked prof. RNDr. Jan Palouš, DrSc, the chairman of the National Organization Committee of the IAU General Assembly and the chairman of the Council for International Affairs of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. In addition, the technicians also installed dozens of internet connections in the CCP conference rooms and offices. "We devoted many hours to planning and much time was also spent discussing the correct configuration of the net with IT experts. Besides the cable Internet connection, a wireless Internet connection was also installed with the support from sponsors in the whole conference area allowing 500 simultaneous accesses. During the whole congress, there were more than 18 000 accesses", remarked Zuzana Tesařová.

Efficient Information Service

For the very first time in the history of the IAU congresses, thanks to the CBT team, some of the lectures as well as the Inaugural and Farewell Ceremonies were broadcast live over the Internet. Furthermore, the video-recordings of the sessions are still available from the web site "The video-archive is indeed very popular. In the first two weeks following the congress, the video-recordings were accessed and seen by 20 000 visitors. We expect a total of approximately 100 000 visits to the archive by 2009 when the next astronomic congress will take place," claimed Zuzana Tesařová . In October, further downloadable video-recordings of the presentations and discussions will be added to the page. "Also, audio-recordings were made in most of the conference rooms. These will be further processed."

According to Zuzana Tesařová, both the development of the congress web pages as well as their everyday update were very demanding. During the whole period of preparation, the web pages were basically the only source of information for those interested in attending the congress. "There were times when we had to update the content of the web pages every five minutes which required a permanent attention of the administrator," said Zuzana Tesařová.

"Big Little Things" and Valuable Experience

The large size of the congress affected even the little things usually taken for granted, such as signposting and orientation plans for the participants. The Congress Centre with its complex system of corridors and passageways required the installation of more than 200 information boards, which comprised more than 100 m2 of printed material.

Also, providing of the otherwise common congress services involved some unusual solutions. For example, the mere provision of refreshments for the coffee-breaks in the course of two weeks for more than 2600 people proved to be a real challenge. The congress newspaper represented a similar problem. "We worked on the current issue every night. On the whole, we issued 10 numbers, each with the circulation of 3 000 copies. Thanks to the fact that the conference was held on several days we gained a lot of valuable experience. With the aid of our subcontractors we were able to solve promptly all of the problems that emerged, without the participants of the conference noticing anything," emphasised Zuzana Tesařová.

Congress Business Travel Agency (CBT)

CBT was established in 1991. From the beginning, the company directed its activities towards the congress and incentive tourism with the aim of providing a customer oriented service resulting in a large number of satisfied clients.

The work team of the agency consists of 13 highly-qualified and experienced staff members with many years of experience in the organisation of congresses, symposia and tailor-made conferences.

Every year, CBT independently organises more than 30 events and arranges a number of business trips to congresses and conferences held abroad.

Previously organised events include:

  • IASIL 2005 Conference - International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures 13th International Safe Communities Conference 2004
  • 14th IFCC, EUROMEDLAB Prague 2001 - European Congress of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine and 5th Czech National Congress of Clinical Biochemistry

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