Hilton Head 2020

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Sea Grass Sunday May 31, 2020

In normal times, today would have been the start of our one-day short course, followed by an energizing positive welcome reception on the pavilion facing the Atlantic Ocean at the Sonesta Resort Hotel. What a lovely afternoon we would be having together before the start of the four-day Hilton Head 2020 Workshop tomorrow morning.

I look back across my years of participating in the biennial Hilton Head Workshop, going all the way back to 1996 when I attended as a graduate student. I can remember all the great interactions, friendships, mentoring, lessons and joys that I personally received and benefited from at this truly unique and memorable meeting.

Two years ago, when my colleague and dear friend Mina Rais-Zadeh and I decided to team up to arrange this year's Hilton Head conference, I was hoping that we could yet again bring in new ideas, visions, experiences, and opportunities for networking, mentoring and interaction among us in our beautiful, informal (and yet formal) setting.

The Hilton Head 2020 Workshop would have continued to represent the excellence in science and engineering of the MEMS community while introducing a number of changes in the structure of this historic meeting. Some of these changes included Hilton Head becoming an international meeting for the first time, while remaining committed to its key mission of excellence in showcasing new innovative work and offering strong networking opportunities. We had new representatives from multiple regions in North America on our Technical Program Committee (TPC), and a strong focus on cultivating the impact of MEMS on global issues and grand challenges (including a full-day short course on "Microsystems Frontiers in the IoT Era").

For the first time ever, we were hosting four MEMS invited speakers, each introducing a grand challenge topic. We also were anticipating a very well-structured Rump Session with a renowned expert who would have presented a well-formulated plan to better equip us on making coherent graphics and images of our research programs.

Most importantly our workshop had a strong focus on "Health Grand Challenges." We would have hosted four internationally known experts as our keynote speakers--all from outside the MEMS/Microsystems community. They were going to emphasize why health grand challenges should be a strong motivating point to get our bright, skilled, talented and passionate students to work on critically impactful societal causes like public health, robotics assisted surgery, gastrointestinal tract (GI) and brain imaging.

Instead, a devastating worldwide health grand challenge led us to cancel the meeting in March and pushed us into a quarantine lifestyle instead. COVID 19 has caused so much sadness for so many people around the world in the last four months, especially in the US with over 104,000 people dead, 42 million jobless, and hundreds of thousands with no proper nutrition/food. It has created endless uncertainties for so many, not to mention the recent civil unrests for justice and freedom in the major cities across our country. This in turn has made the quarantine life even harder as we watch those in the streets demonstrating for all of us.

There is simply so much to comprehend and deal with these days. In retrospect this makes the cancellation of our unique meeting a very small dot and/or setback in our diaries. Despite all that, I can not help but be an optimist for a bright and better future ahead. In the future I see, everyone's voice and life will matter and grand challenges and causes, especially health grand challenges, will be at the forefront and driving force for our research and educational activities. Most importantly, this future will be a balanced representation of our diverse communities and regions.

I cannot wait for us to meet again in that lovely pavilion at the Sonesta Resort Hotel (if it will still be named Sonesta!?) on Hilton Head Island, June 2022. Once again we will greet one another with big smiles and hugs and talk about our recent experiences, especially the ones we will have encountered during this devastating period. We'll also talk about how determined we all are to change the world for the better so that the next generation of MEMS students, faculty, scientists and entrepreneurs will be better prepared to address future grand challenges.

Thanks again to all the contributing authors and their hard work, and especially to our talented students and post-doctoral associates. We are hoping the IEEE JMEMS Special Proceeding (over 112 submitted manuscripts), due for publication in Fall 2020, will be a great archival representation of your creative research. Thanks to PMMI for keeping us focused, thanks to Transducer Research Foundation (transducer-research-foundation.org) for their commitment and continuous leadership, and finally, thanks to Hilton Head for all the great memories. We will be together again in June 2022.

All the best,

Reza Ghodssi
Hilton Head 2020 Technical Program Chair
Herbert Rabin Distinguished Chair in Engineering
University of Maryland

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