Category Archives: reports

QMC visit to the Scuola Normale in Pisa


Sam and I were in Pisa recently at the invitation of Prof. Vincenzo Barone from the Theoretical Chemistry group at the Scuola Normale. Prof. Barone is amongst other things, Professor of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry in Pisa,  President of the Italian Chemical Society, and author of more than 650 publications, which for a young man like me still stuck on around 60 papers is something to aspire to, to say the least.

Despite the literal meaning of ‘Normal School’ – which in English sounds like somewhere you go if you can’t get into a good school –  the Scuola Normale is probably Italy’s most prestigious university – founded in 1810 by Napoleonic decree as the sister  of the École Normale in Paris. It is very much an elite institution, and to become a student there, candidates have to pass an extremely selective admissions exam with only a 6% pass rate – every year only sixty candidates are admitted out of nearly 1000 applicants. The main building is the overwhelmingly beautiful Palazzo della Carovana (pictured above) which was designed and built by Giorgio Vasari in the 1500s as the headquarters of the Knights of Saint Stephen. It is situated in Piazza dei Cavalieri  – the second main square in Pisa and right in the heart of the action. What a fantastic place to work,  I have to say! It certainly beats the modern incarnation of the pebble-dashed prefab Cavendish Laboratory – which was moved out of the centre of Cambridge to a field three miles away in the 1970s. This was done at probably the worst moment in history for British architecture at a cost of only two million pounds and it really shows;  despite inflation that wasn’t very much money back then either.

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Conference report: Quantum Monte Carlo in the Apuan Alps IX

I learned from Daniela the barmaid that the old people  were saying it was the worst summer weather in Tuscany since 1915. Surely they weren’t so old that they would actually remember? Well, round here you never know — they might be — and despite the rain, almost a hundred years later forty-six people have gathered in Vallico Sotto to attend the ninth “Quantum Monte Carlo in the Apuan Alps” international workshop. From the 26th of July to the 2nd of August 2014 our resident physicists and chemists spent each morning listening to talks on quantum Monte Carlo and related computational electronic structure methods, followed by afternoons that were often full of mountain walking, caving, canyoning and other activities but — for pretty much the first time ever in history of events at TTI — were equally often cancelled because of the appalling weather.

A great deal of interesting science was presented and discussed at the meeting, and much of this is summarized in the scientific report further down this page. I think it’s now clear to most people that the quantum Monte Carlo method is continuing to grow in utility and importance, and for those with a big enough computer it self-evidently ought to be the method of choice for highly accurate benchmark quantum-mechanical calculations of molecules and materials — certainly those with more than a few atoms.

Continue reading Conference report: Quantum Monte Carlo in the Apuan Alps IX