A sustainable look at the future – Lindau

If you ever have the time to take a deeper look at the history of the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting, you will recognize that concerns for humans and the environment shape it. The openness of the scientific debates and solution seeking fosters the specific spirit of Lindau ever since the first meeting in 1951.

One idea behind the founding of the meetings was the desire for a restoration of the scientific bridges between people from different nations after the Second World War. These new bridges the Laureates used immediately, in order to put their concern for humanity and the environment on the agenda.

In 1954 Werner Heisenberg saw the attendance of Albert Schweitzer, winner of the Nobel peace prize, at the meeting as cause to „rethink the humanitarian side of science“.It was his initiative to invite to the chemists’ Meeting in the following year all the Nobel laureates whose work lay in nuclear research. This led to the so-called Mainau declaration, which was signed by 18 Nobel Prize winners in 1955 and in which they issued a warning against the use of atomic weapons.

Mainauer Deklaration

The first lines of the Mainauer Kundgebung from 1955

A full martial use of today’s potential weapons can contaminate the earth so badly that entire nations would be annihilated. […] We don’t deny, that today peace may be kept especially out of fear of these fatal weapons. Nevertheless we take it as a self-deception if governments should believe, they could avoid wars on a long term only by using this fear. […] All nations need to come to the conclusion to abdicate voluntarily on violence as a last measure in politics…

The bridges grew and overcame longer distances with every year and environmental issues increasingly became set on the schedule by the conference participants. Not at least the co-founder and spiritus rector of the meeting, Count Lennart Bernadotte (†2004), opened the conference in 1970 with his appeal: “To all scientists in the world, help to re-establish a healthy environment, to care for it and maintain it as a place fit for human life!” Sustainability will again be a core theme of this year’s meeting. It will appear from a range of perspectives in numerous lectures, to be finally discussed by a concluding top-class panel on ‘Energy and Sustainability’ on July 2nd, 2010, on the Isle of Mainau.

The role scientists may play for a sustainable world also emerged in the talk on “The predicament of mankind” that Dennis Gabor (Nobel Prize in Physics 1971) gave in Lindau in 1973. Gabor was a member of the Club of Rome and co-author of its study “The limits of growth.” The report was based on a computer model that calculated the development of five independent variables, industrialization, population growth, malnourishment, resource use and environmental destruction, until 2100. Gabor outlined the dilemma between mankind’s growth and self-preservation and asked for urgent changes in energy mix and consumption. Analyzing different energy sources, he expressed the hope: “We scientists and technologists must create a new technology, one which uses only inexhaustible or self-renewing resources.“ It is very worthwhile to listen to his lecture (1).

Dennis Gabor

Dennis Gabor, 1973 – 23th Meeting of Nobel Laureates
The Predicament of Mankind (2)

Ever since that time numerous Laureates have been talking about these topics and discussed different energy sources at Lindau. In her “Magna Charta of Duties”, a lecture delivered in Lindau in 1993, Rita Levi-Montalcini (Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine in 1986) asked her audience to do their best to help protect the biosphere and develop a world of justice – read more about my favourite Lindau lecture. She underscored the need for immediate aid for the poor from developed countries and plead for a world based on total equality. As scientific criteria lead to better decisions, Levi-Montalcini concluded that it should be specifically a duty of young scientists “to move this beautiful declaration to action.”

In recent years, the possibilities and limitations of renewable energies have been on a special focus. In 2007, for example, Hartmut Michel (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1988) discussed “Biofuels – sense or nonsense.” In 2009, Walter Kohn (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1998) outlined “An earth powered predominantly by solar and wind energy.”

Untiringly the three Nobel laureates in Chemistry 1995, Paul Crutzen, José Mario Molina and Frank Sherwood Rowland continuously make the protection of the atmosphere, greenhouse gases and climate change a subject of discussion at Lindau. They had uncovered the reactions, which led to the depletion of ozon in the upper atmosphere. This year Crutzen and Rowland will be back at Lindau and use the afternoon discussions with young scientists to talk about their core themes.

And may Laureates follow the example given by Rita Levi-Montalcini and talk about their concerns for environment and humanity – topics far from their own research. This year, for example, Richard Ernst (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1991) invites young researchers to “Develop concepts for a beneficial global future;” Robert B. Laughlin (Nobel Prize in Physics 1998) discusses what happens “When coal is gone;” and Leland H. Hartwell (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001) will talk about “Developing a sustainable world.”

The 60-year-old tradition of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in this sense is a tradition of sustainability.


(1) Quotes from the lecture “The Predicament of Mankind” held by Dennis Gabor (Nobel Prize in Physics 1971) at Lindau in 1973

9:08 So what we scientists and technologists must create is a new technology. One which uses only unexhaustible or selve renewing resources.

38:37 We must realize we are living on an earth which is now becoming too small for us. Applied scientists and technologists must radically reverse their priorities. The first priority is to get our civilization going and not to continue with this irresponsible waisting of energy and material resources.


(2) The Lindau Mediatheque, a project sponsored by the Gerda-Henkel-Stiftung actually contains 130 Video- and Audiolectures from Lindau.

Meet the Young Scientists – part 1

This year’s Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting will give almost 700 young scientists from around the world the opportunity to meet and talk science with 61 Nobel Laureates. What’s it like to be an ambitious researcher today and does your experience of “doing science” or your hopes for the future depend on where you work? I’m planning to listen to the thoughts of three young scientists over the next couple of weeks – before, during and after this year’s meeting – to compare their stories. In this post we get to meet Emmanuel, Paul and Jisun.

Emmanuel Unuabonah is an associate professor of Chemical Sciences at Reedemer’s University in Nigeria. 


Paul Rupar is also a chemist and works as a Postdoctoral Associate in polymer chemistry at the University of Bristol in the UK. He obtained his PhD from The University of Western Ontario in Canada and moved to the UK in 2009.

 Paul Ropar

Jisun Moon obtained her B.Sc and M.Sc in physics at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 2006, she has worked in the lab of Prof. Alan Heegar at the University of California. 

Can you explain your research area to a non-specialist in three sentences?

EU: Presently, I use modified clays and/or agricultural waste materials such as wood sawdust, palm kernal fibre and Carica papaya seeds. The research is aimed at providing cheap but very efficient materials that could be used for treating water and wastewater. My ultimate goals are to design a small but very cheap system that is able to effectively treat water and to provide industries with very cheap materials that could be used in treating wastewater in place of expensive resins.

PR: In the Manners’ group (University of Bristol), we work with organometallic diblock copolymers. These block copolymers have two distinct chemical domains and can self-assemble into well-defined micelles. I am researching ways to fine-tune control of the micelle self-assembly.

JM: One of our group’s main research topics is polymer solar cells.  In polymer solar cells, the active layer, which absorbs light and generates electricity, is made of a blend of two materials, polymer and fullerene (soluble buckyball).   My work is to observe the morphology of the polymer and fullerene domain and study how to control the morphology such as connectivity, domain size, and the directionality of each polymer and fullerene domain.

Do you think that what you’re working on has a practical application or is it more conceptual, and does this matter to you?

EU: My work has a practical application. Materials I have modified so far can be combined in a system to treat water.

PR: The work that I am personally doing right now is very conceptual in nature. That said, as our control of micelle growth continues to advance, we are constantly considering ways to apply our systems to functional materials. We have some exciting applications planned in the near future. From a funding perspective, I believe that it is often easier to secure grants for applied research as opposed to funadamental research.

JM: I think it is both practical and conceptual.  Solar cells have obvious practical applications, but the morphology of polymer and fullerene for polymer solar cells, which is what I am focusing on, is more of a conceptual research topic.

What’s your average day at work like? Meetings? Lab work? Reviewing papers? Teaching?

EU:Teaching 50%, lab work 35%, reviewing papers 10%, meetings 5%.

PR: I think my average day is fairly typical for a post-doc. Most of my time is spent working on experiments, discussing research with other members of the lab, and reading literature at my desk. We have weekly group meetings where the students and post-docs present their own research and recent results from literature in a more formal fashion. 

JM: I spend most of my time for lab work and analysis of the data, as well as discussion with other group members.   I consistently make lab schedules and like to have occasional long times for reviewing papers. 

What’s been the biggest challenge in your research career so far?

EU: Epileptic power supply.

PR: I find research itself to be very emotional. If my chemistry is working well, I become excited and it is easy to work hard. However, when things are not going so well in the lab, I can become very discouraged. My biggest challenge is to stay focused and work through the tough times.  

JM: I haven’t had too many difficulties in my research yet because I have been getting great support from my advisor.

 The skill is in realising that the unexpected sludge sitting in the bottom of your flask is actually a major breakthrough.

Do you think you’ve had any lucky breaks? Any key experiments that worked first time or an important bit of advice that you were given or a timely grant/publication?

EU: Yes, I’ve had two breakthroughs in the preparation of two new adsorbents.

PR: I think serendipity is a big part of research. The skill is in realising that the unexpected sludge sitting in the bottom of your flask is actually a major breakthrough. I was extremely lucky during my PhD studies. I had a number of unexpected results and was able, with the help of my supervisor and the people I worked with, to recognise their significance.

Are there many others in the world working on the same subject as you? Do you think this helps or hinders you?

EU: Yes, there are many others in the world working on my area of research and this does help because from reviewing or reading some of their works I get new ideas and I am able to make better contributions to the subject by every new publication.

PR: There are a number of groups woking on the self-assembly of micelles using block copolymers. Other research groups approach similar problems in often different and creative ways. It is exciting, instructive and inspirational to learn from the work of others. The downside of a crowded scientific field is that there is always a risk of someone else publishing results similar to you, but this makes you want to work even harder so this can be viewed as a positive influence.

JM: For now I am the only one who is doing the cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy (TEM) phase imaging for polymer solar cells.  The good thing is that I’m the first one to see the data in the world which can be very exciting and sometimes surprising too.  The bad thing is that there are no references for me to look at and have to look at all the samples I want to see. 

What key questions do you hope will be answered in your research area in the next 60 years?

EU: How do we recover micropollutants from adsorbents for further use rather than discarding them with spent adsorbents into the environment or desorbing them from the adsorbents into the environment again?

When shall the larger volume of data obtained for various low-cost adsorbents be put to use in practical terms for the benefits of society?

PR:  The research that I am performing right now is part of the larger field of self-assembly. Essentially, a carefully designed molecular system can be made to spontaneously assemble into larger structures under the correct conditions. Biological systems (e.g. a proten, virus etc) represent the ultimate form of self-assembly. I am curious to see if human designed self-assembly can ever approach the complexity of natural systems.

  A Nature/Science publication will be enough for me for now! 

If you could have three wishes about your work granted this year, what would they be?


i) power supply in my laboratory

ii) Some very important equipment for surface characterisation such as the Scanning Electron Microscope etc be installed in my lab

iii) I am able to produce my dream adsorber system that is cheap and able to remove micropollutants from water even at parts per billion levels


i) Obtain a faculty position at a research intensive university

ii) That my current project (which is very different from my PhD thesis) keeps moving in the right direction

iii) Publish the results from my 2nd wish in a top tier journal

JM: A Nature/Science publication will be enough for me for now! 

How did you hear about the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and how did you apply to attend?

EU:Through the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (AWAS) and I was nominated by the same academy.

PR: I heard about the Meeting through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada and was nominated by NSERC to apply to attend.

JM: I heard it from my advisor, Alan J. Heeger who is a Nobel Laureate in 2000 and he encouraged me to apply to attend. 

 This conference will  give me the opportunity to interact with young scientists from various countries and various scientific disciplines… and possibly initiate collaboration with them.

What are you most looking forward to about attending this year’s meeting?

EU: I look forward to listen and to interact with scientists who have made breakthroughs in their various scientific fields (Nobel Laureates) and be inspired by how they have been successful in their research. Attending this conference will also give me the opportunity to interact with young scientists from various countries and various scientific disciplines and share with them the best practices in scientific research and possibly initiate collaboration with them. This will go a long way to further motivate me in my research.  

PR: Of course I am very excited to meet the Nobel Laureates!

JM: I look forward to meeting all the great Nobel Laureates, as well as my fellow peers in the scientific world. 





Climate change: The two-degree target lnlm09

This short film was made at the 2009 Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Germany…Seek advice from climate experts including the IPCC’s Rajendra Pachauri, challenge the sceptical views of political scientist Bjørn Lomborg, and learn lessons from the Nobel Laureates who showed that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer. published October 14th 2009