In recent years most of the conferences I’ve attended have been mathematics and mathematical physics ones, and I had noticed that, while modest registration fees were often a feature many years ago, these days most such conferences, especially in the US, have no registration fee at all. It seems that mathematicians tend to organize conferences at rather modest cost, and mathematics research is very well supported by the NSF, universities and private foundations. This morning I’d been idly considering the idea of taking a day-trip down to Philadelphia next month to visit friends and maybe attend a couple talks at String-Math 2011, which has a promising list of speakers, but not yet a schedule of talks. I noticed though that registration is $200, which is a bit high as a price to attend a couple talks, whatever source I might find to pay for it.
As one moves from mathematics topics to physics ones, it seems that things get a lot pricier. You might think that string theory not working out as hoped would lead to the availability and market-value of string theory talks heading downwards, but the opposite seems to be true. The big string theory conference this summer is Strings 2011 in Uppsala, where registration will cost you 5625 Swedish Krona (about \$900) [Organizer Joe Minahan points out that this is the on-site cost for faculty, for whom the pre-May 19 price is 4375 Swedish Krona = \$700, post-May 19 5000 Swedish Krona = \$800. Costs for students are lower]. For that you get the talks, coffee, lunch and a reception. If you want to go to the conference dinner, that’s \$112 extra. The conference series is advertised as “gathering more than 500 researchers in string theory”, although in recent years, attendance at Strings 20XX conferences has been a bit lower. Last year’s was anomalous, held in March (when academics often can’t travel) in College Station, Texas (not exactly a major tourist destination), it attracted only 193 participants, despite a relatively low registration fee of only $350. For Strings 2011, they’ve got 208 people registered already. The list of speakers is here. There’s an associated program of Public Lectures which seem likely to have little to do with string theory, instead concentrating on “mind-boggling questions” about the multiverse and the Big Bang. Those at least seem to be free.
I haven’t added up the total cost, but if you’ve got significant funds available from a grant, university research support, or private wealth, you can spend pretty much the entire summer attending not just string theory talks, but even string phenomenology talks (see a list here). There’s the String Vacuum Project meeting in Philadelphia starting May 23, from which one could head to String Phenomenology at Nordita from May 30 to June 25, then Strings 2011 in Uppsala until July 2, a workshop and conference in Spain from July 3-29, Les Houches for most of August, then String Phenomenology in Madison August 22-26 and SUSY11 at Fermilab keeping you busy until Labor Day.
Update: The hot topic these days is not string theory, but gauge theory amplitudes, using twistors. If you can’t afford strings, the price of the twistor talks is still low: a correspondent points out to me that for a registration fee of 15 pounds, you can attend Twistors, Geometry and Physics, a meeting this summer in honor of Penrose’s 80th birthday.