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The Work Behind the Scenes for the First Ever Online Event of SSDM2020

writerKeisuke Ohdaira

Vol.32 (Feb) 2022 | Article no.4-4 2022

The Work Behind the Scenes for the First Ever
Online Event of SSDM2020

Keisuke Ohdaira (Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)


The International Conference on Solid State Devices and Materials (SSDM) is an academic conference with a history that spans more than 50 years. SSDM has significantly contributed to the Japanese semiconductor industry. In 2020, SSDM was supposed to be held in the Hokuriku region for the first time. However, the Covid-19 virus was rapidly spreading in Japan every day. By mid-April we have decided to abandon the face-to-face meeting. We then rushed to prepare for the online event. We faced many challenges and these problems persisted till the end of the event. This article will focus on how we were able to adapt to the unprecedented complications facing the preparation and operation of SSDM2020 from the perspective of one of the organizers.


The principal managers involved in this conference were the Toshiba team, including Organizing Committee Chair Atsushi Kurobe; the group of universities in the Hokuriku region led by Steering Committee Chair Hiroshi Mizuta (Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST)) and Acting Chair Masashi Akabori (JAIST); and the SSDM secretariat. The session was originally scheduled from September 27 (Sunday) to 30 (Wednesday) with the venues at Toyama Prefectural Hall and the Toyama International Conference Center.

The initial concern was how people would travel to Toyama. It is only two hours via the Shinkansen from Tokyo, but it is still a long way to travel. To attract a large number of participants to the plenary sessions on the morning of September 28 (Monday), the short course and tutorial session on September 27 were enriched with additional content; a satellite workshop was included and a Toyama Bay cruise at the welcome reception was planned as a key attraction. As we were planning to hold events at the two venues, several queries typically associated with conference planning were discussed. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic entered the picture.


On February 22, 2020, the 67th Spring Meeting of the Japan Society of Applied Physics was canceled, and SSDM2020 was forced to discuss on alternative plans on how to hold the conference given the new circumstances and how to analyze the impact of the uncertain Covid-19 situation. It would be virtually impossible to hold SSDM in-person if people could not enter Japan in September. After considering all possibilities, it was decided to conduct the conference online in April. At this point, it was no longer necessary for the members of the Hokuriku region to oversee the steering committee, but there was no time to form a new steering committee. Ultimately, all of the steering committee members from four universities in the Hokuriku region (Kanazawa University, Toyama University, Toyama Prefectural University, and JAIST) agreed to continue the work and decided to continue preparations for SSDM2020. With less than half a year left until the event, could we manage to host an international academic conference with 1,000 participants?


The first step was to build an online conference system. The selection of contractors was completed around June-July 2020 and the conference management process finally took shape. Figure 1 shows a conceptual diagram of the conference system used in SSDM2020. The chair, presenter, and host (student) access the web conference system (Zoom), and the presenter gave a presentation under the moderation of the chair. The host was responsible for various troubleshooting of conference matters, as well as in timekeeping, applause management, commercial video distribution, and other matters. The audience was kept informed of the state of the web conference system from the event management platform via the live distribution function of the video-sharing site. Audiences could conveniently move to another session within their event management platform as though they were changing TV channels.


Fig. 1. Conceptual diagram of the conference system used in SSDM2020

The question-and-answer session was conducted using a text-based Q&A service available to the chair and audience, whereby the chair would read the questions posted by the audience and conveyed them to the presenter. As the access destinations and operations of chairs, presenters, hosts, and listeners would be different, the steering committee conducted several rehearsals and repeatedly revised the manuals distributed to the chairs, presenters, and hosts. In addition, we set scenic pictures of Toyama Prefecture, for example, Mt. Tateyama, Kurobe Dam, and Gokayama, as virtual backgrounds for presenters so that participants can get a feel of Toyama as much as possible.

We prepared to play commercial videos of sponsor companies and exhibited the sponsors between sessions. In addition, instead of a face-to-face company booth exhibition, we used a system that allowed online communication with the person in charge of the exhibition company.

JAIST oversaw host operations during the sessions, and Toyama University, Toyama Prefectural University, and Toshiba Corp. were sub-hosts in case of unforeseen circumstances such as network troubles. JAIST used one of the large lecture rooms as the operations headquarters, and 15 host PCs were installed.


Of all the programs, the steering committee was most nervous about the program that was executed on the morning of the second day (Monday, September 28, 2020). The program, consisting of an opening ceremony, four plenary sessions, and an awards ceremony, was supposed to be a highlight of SSDM. In particular, there was a debate about whether the opening and awards ceremonies would be pre-recorded or live-streamed. As a result, we decided to distribute a pre-recorded version of the opening ceremony because we did not want to fail at the start of the main program of the academic conference. At the beginning of the ceremony, we decided to play a video about Toyama with the cooperation of Toyama Prefecture. However, the awards ceremony was to be held live, with the award winners commenting online because we sincerely believed it to be an important experience.


On September 23 (Wednesday), JAIST set up its operations headquarters, and on Thursday, training was held for students in charge of hosting the event. On Friday, the steering committee and the students engaged in the event conducted the final rehearsal. On September 26 (Saturday), the day before the session, there was an extra test trial for chairs and presenters. Fortunately, all of the plans were implemented without much difficulty, except that as a countermeasure against Covid-19, windows and other ventilations were opened and somehow flies were attracted to the hosting site from nowhere at the JAIST campus.

On September 27 (Sunday), a tutorial session and a short course were held, and both were executed without any glitches. We were optimistic when September 28 arrived.


JAIST hosted most programs during SSDM2020, but the opening ceremony and plenary sessions on Monday (September 28) were hosted by the Toshiba team in Tokyo. In other words, after the plenary lecture was completed, the host moved from Toshiba to JAIST, where the awards ceremony was held. However, trouble occurred on that day. One of the award winners, through no fault of his own, lost access to the web conference system (Zoom). In principle, this could have been handled, for example, by a delaying at the start so as to allow the winner to regain access to the conference. However, Toshiba was responsible for providing Zoom access to the winner, and JAIST was responsible for operations to host the ceremony. In addition, the moderator, Steering Committee Chair Mizuta, was attending the ceremony, and chairing from a different site from the administration headquarters. Therefore, JAIST proceeded with the ceremony without award winner's presence.

It was a mistake to think that any of the incidents that occurred on that day could be easily overcome because everyone was connected by Zoom. I keenly felt that online conference operators should meet face-to-face as much as possible. One lesson I learned was that face-to-face meetings are important, especially for online meetings.

For the part of the awards ceremony that could not be held, we recorded the winner's comments on the evening of the following day, September 29 (Tuesday), and delivered them to the participants on the final day, September 30 (Wednesday). I was the committee member in charge of the awards ceremony and I must admit that I was quite upset after the ceremony. However, there are not enough words to express my thankfulness for the other steering committee members who promptly followed through during the session.


While this conference was very convenient for the audience, the system was a little complicated for chairs and presenters, and the burden on the hosting students was heavy. Although Japanese nationals made up a majority of the chairs and presenters, SSDM2020 was an international academic conference, and there were several occasions when English was required as a medium of communication. JAIST students bravely responded to this challenge and they did a good job hosting for four consecutive days. Figure 2 shows some of the students who were hosting at the administration headquarters.


Fig. 2. Hosting by JAIST students

Moreover, students from Toyama University and Toyama Prefectural University were active as sub-hosts. Between the hosts and sub-hosts, the students had voluntarily organized many coordination trials and rehearsals. Their sleek management efforts as the hosts exceeded the expectations of the steering committee during the conference sessions. To test accessibility of the conference prior to the session, various method of accessibility methods was attempted and prepared. Kanazawa University students oversaw this accessibility issue from various destinations. The steering committee members offered "support center" assistance. Like a corporate call center, the support center accurately handled a number of enquiries. Figure 3 shows the "support center."


Fig. 3. Students at Kanazawa University serving as a "support center"


The general sessions started on the afternoon of the 28th (Monday). We were nervously watching over 10 parallel sessions to see whether they could be held without any glitches, and thanks to the efforts of the students who operated the hosting, the event proceeded without any major problems. One presenter did not appear at the scheduled session owing to network problem in China. In this case, the presentation was canceled, but I made an international call from the administration headquarters to the person in China and followed up so that he could access the session. The presenter himself wanted to give up, but the steering committee desperately tried to facilitate the presentation. At the end, the presentation was not moved to another day, but an audio presentation was arranged on the that day. A few hours before the session, the pre-recorded file however did not arrive. We had to call the presenter in China as a reminder. The file finally arrived safely just minutes before the session started, and we managed to conduct it successfully.


The sessions started on the final day, September 30 (Wednesday), went smoothly, without further network glitches. At the end of each session, a proper acknowledgement was made on the people involved in hosting SSDM2020. Also, just before the end of the last session, a countdown started spontaneously in the administration headquarters and ended in full applause. Rental items (e.g., host PCs) were packed quickly and returned on the same day and the operation headquarters was quickly restored to its original state as a lecture room. The success of the SSDM2020's conference management was discussed in a local newspaper in Ishikawa Prefecture the next day.


I would like to acknowledge the efforts of everyone at the SSDM secretariat. Behind the scene, SSDM2020 created more work than normal due to the sudden change in the mode of conducting the event. The work of the secretariat was not limited to holding meetings and finalizing preparations related to the steering committee. The usual poster session was not held. The program committee borne a heavy burden: they were constantly receiving enquiries from presenters and participants. At the close of the final SSDM2020 session after my announcement that the event was finally over, the secretariat told me that preparations for SSDM2021 had already begun and that related meetings had been scheduled immediately after SSDM2020. I was deeply struck by the fact that the secretariat supports SSDM without interruption. Figure 4 shows the secretariat members during the conference.


Fig. 4. Ms. Watanabe (Left) and Ms. Kita (Right) from the secretariat, during SSDM2020


We would like to express our sincere thanks to the SSDM secretariat members, Toshiba, Kanazawa University, Toyama University, Toyama Prefectural University, JAIST, steering committee members, and the participating students for their collaborative work in the implementation of SSDM2020. The JAIST Distance Education Center helped us tremendously in the preparation and management of the plenary session. In addition, although it was an online conference, everyone at the Toyama Prefectural Office lent us their support throughout SSDM2020. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them. A group photo was taken at the operation headquarters of JAIST (Fig. 5).


Fig. 5. Group photo at administration headquarters

This article was written in early January 2021, at a time when the impact of Covid-19 pandemic became widespread, with no clear end. At various academic conferences to be held in 2021, we will continue to include modifications, such as going online and implementing hybrid formats. We hope that this article could some help or useful tips to readers who are considering holding large-scale online academic conferences in the future.