On the Trail of Nobel Prizes

The new Lindau Science Trail serves as a permanent embodiment of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, their history and first and foremost makes “Nobel knowledge” accessible to everyone. The Lindau Science Trail can be followed not only by those living in and around the picturesque city of Lindau; visitors from all over the world can go on their very own journey of discovery. 
On knowledge pylons that are spread out all around Lindau, one can learn more about the everyday applications of scientific phenomena. And who knows, there might just be a Nobel Laureate waiting around the corner in Lindau you surely can’t rule it out.

Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The knowledge pylon at the harbour of Lindau. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

The Lindau Spirit for everyone

Knowledge should be freely available to everyone at all times. This credo is at the heart of the philosophy of the Foundation and the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.
For more than 65 years, Nobel Laureates and young scientists from all over the world have come together in Lindau once a year to exchange ideas and learn from each other. The “Lindau Spirit”, which inspires the participants year after year, can now be experienced on the Lindau Science Trail by everyone throughout the entire year.
The Lindau Science Trail consists of a total of 21 knowledge pylons, 15 of which can be discovered on the island of Lindau. On the mainland of Lindau and on Mainau Island there are three pylons each waiting to be explored.

 

This map shows the locations of the different knowledge pylons which can now be discovered on the island of Lindau. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

This map shows the locations of the different knowledge pylons which can now be discovered on the island of Lindau. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

The Knowledge Pylons – Something for Everyone

At the knowledge pylons, explorers big and small can learn more about various scientific discoveries and about the different Nobel Prize disciplines in English as well as in German. The pylons cover the three natural science disciplines – Physics, Chemistry and Physiology/ Medicine – as well as Peace and Literature. Two knowledge pylons explain economic theories in a manner which is easily understandable; two others provide insight into how the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings started and tell the story behind the Nobel Prizes. You don’t have to be a science expert to understand the explanations on the pylons. The Lindau Science trail addresses grown-ups as well as children. There is a special children’s section on every pylon.

Spotlight on the “Lindau” Nobel Laureates: The Nobel Laureates that have visited the Lindau Meetings thus far will be honoured at one central spot: on the “kleiner See” that separates mainland Lindau from Lindau island there will soon be a pier where the names of all the Nobel Laureates who have already visited the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings will be listed – more than 450 laureates.

 

Virtual Science Trail: Discovering Science With the App

A dedicated app will allow you to meet the Nobel Laureates virtually on the Science Trail. At six different locations, virtual Nobel Laureates explain why they have received the Nobel Prize. You can even take a selfie with them!
The app also gives you the opportunity to test your freshly acquired ‘Nobel Knowledge’. While ‘hiking’ on the Science Trail you can try to answer the numerous quiz questions. The Rallye can only be taken right on the spot, not at locations remote from the Lindau Science Trail – an open invitation for all science enthusiasts to come and visit Lindau and take the chance to meet Nobel Laureates.

Picture/Credit: preto_perola/istockphoto.com, illustrations: eatmefeedme; editing: rh

With the Lindauer Wissenspfad App, one can test one’s knowledge. Picture/Credit: preto_perola/istockphoto.com, illustrations: eatmefeedme; editing: rh

 

Experience the Lindau Science Trail Back Home or in Your Classroom

Those who cannot physically come to Lindau can still discover the town, the Nobel Laureates and their research by virtually walking along the Science Trail and visiting the pylons in the app. Teachers can use it in the classroom as well.

If the Science Trail is also available virtually what’s the point in taking a field trip to Lindau and experiencing it first-hand? In addition to jointly completing the Science Trail and the Rallye, a surprise is waiting for all students here in Lindau. Teachers, who are interested in a school field trip to Lindau, may contact the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings for more information and additional material.

Pupils exploring a knowledge pylon. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Pupils exploring a knowledge pylon. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

29 June 2017: The Opening of the Lindau Science Trail

The official opening will take place during the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (Chemistry) on Thursday, 29 June 2017. The Bavarian Minister of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science, Dr. Ludwig Spaenle and the Lord Mayor of the City of Lindau, Dr. Gerhard Ecker, will then inaugurate the first knowledge pylon at Lindau harbour together with the President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, Countess Bettina Bernadotte and the chairman of the Prof. Otto Beisheim Foundation, Dr. Fredy Raas.

The realisation of the Lindau Science Trail was enabled by the support of the city of Lindau and the Prof. Otto Beisheim Foundation.

 

Den Nobelpreisen auf der Spur

Der Lindauer Wissenspfad macht ab sofort die Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagungen, deren Geschichte und vor allem das „Nobelwissen“ für Groß und Klein sicht- und (be-)greifbar. Auf den Spuren von Nobelpreisträgern und ihrer Forschung können alle Lindauerinnen und Lindauer, aber auch Gäste aus der ganzen Welt, auf Entdeckungstour durch Lindau gehen. An insgesamt 21 Wissenspylonen lernen sie dabei mehr über wissenschaftliche Alltagsphänomene. Vielleicht kommt dabei auch der eine oder andere Nobelpreisträger um die Ecke – in Lindau immerhin durchaus denkbar…

Die Leuchtturmstele am Lindauer Hafen. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Die Leuchtturmstele am Lindauer Hafen. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Der Lindau Spirit für Alle

Wissen sollte immer und überall frei zur Verfügung stehen. Das gehört zum Kernanliegen von Stiftung und Kuratorium der Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagungen, zu ihrer Mission Education. Die Idee zum Bau des Lindauer Wissenspfades ist daraus entstanden. Die Stadt Lindau hat sie bei der Umsetzung unterstützt.
Schon seit über 65 Jahren kommen in Lindau einmal im Jahr Nobelpreisträger und junge Nachwuchswissenschaftler aus der ganzen Welt zusammen, um sich auszutauschen und voneinander zu lernen. Der Lindau Spirit, von dem die Teilnehmer dabei inspiriert werden, soll jetzt auf dem Lindauer Wissenspfad für jeden und vor allem das ganze Jahr über erlebbar sein.
Der Wissenspfad besteht aus insgesamt 21 Wissenspylonen, 15 davon können auf der Lindauer Insel entdeckt werden. Auf dem Lindauer Festland und auf der Insel Mainau stehen jeweils drei Stelen zur Erkundung bereit. Auf der Karte sind die einzelnen Standorte auf der Lindauer Insel zu sehen.

Die Karte zeigt die verschiedenen Standorte der Wissenspylone, die ab sofort in Lindau entdeckt werden können. Picture/Credit: Archimedes Exhibitions GmbH

Die Karte zeigt die verschiedenen Standorte der Wissenspylone, die ab sofort in Lindau entdeckt werden können. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Für jeden etwas dabei – die Wissenspylone

Auf den unterschiedlichen Pylonen lernen kleine und große Entdecker wissenschaftliche Begebenheiten aus den Bereichen der Nobelpreisdisziplinen kennen und verstehen: es gibt Physik-, Chemie-, und Medizinpylone, aber auch eine Friedens- und eine Literaturstele. Zwei Wissenspylone erklären Theorien aus den Wirtschaftswissenschaften, zwei weitere Stelen erläutern, wie die Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagungen entstanden sind und was sich hinter dem Nobelpreis verbirgt. Man muss kein Naturwissenschafts-Experte sein, um die Erklärungen auf den Pylonen zu verstehen. Der Wissenspfad richtet sich an viele unterschiedliche Menschen; die Kinderspuren auf jedem Pylon bringen das ‚Nobelwissen‘ auch den jüngsten Forschern näher.

Natürlich bekommen die Nobelpreisträger auf dem Wissenspfad einen besonderen Platz: auf den Stelen wird nicht nur ihre Forschung sicht- und erlernbar gemacht, zukünftig werden sie an der zentralen Station auch besonders geehrt: Auf dem kleinen See wird es in Lindau bald einen Steg geben, der die Namen der Nobelpreisträger verzeichnet, die schon einmal in Lindau zu Gast waren. Und das sind schon mehr als 450 Laureaten!

Virtueller Wissenspfad: Mit der App auf Entdeckungstour

In Zukunft kann man den Nobelpreisträgern auf dem Wissenspfad auch virtuell begegnen. Die App macht das möglich: an sechs verschiedenen Standorten erklären virtuelle Nobelpreisträger, wofür sie den Nobelpreis bekommen haben. Sogar ein Selfie mit Preisträgern ist möglich!
Entlang des Wissenspfads können alle ‚Wissenspfadler‘ das Erlernte in der Rallye testen und über Quizfragen knobeln. Dafür muss man allerdings vor Ort sein. Damit möglichst viele Leute den Weg nach Lindau aufnehmen und den Wissenspfad auch in echt kennen lernen, werden die virtuellen Nobelpreisträger und die Quizfragen nämlich nur am Pylonenstandort freigeschaltet.

Mit der Lindauer Wissenspfad-App kann man in der Rallye z.B. Quizfragen beantworten. Picture/Credit: preto_perola/istockphoto.com, illustrations: eatmefeedme; editing: rh

Mit der Lindauer Wissenspfad-App kann man in der Rallye z.B. Quizfragen beantworten. Picture/Credit: preto_perola/istockphoto.com, illustrations: eatmefeedme; editing: rh

 

Der Wissenspfad auf dem Sofa oder im Klassenraum

Aber auch diejenigen, die nicht nach Lindau kommen (können), haben die Möglichkeit, einen Blick auf Lindau, die Nobelpreisträger und ihre Forschung zu werfen: sie können den Wissenspfad zuhause virtuell ablaufen und die Pylone in der App abrufen. Das können sich auch Lehrer im Unterricht zu Nutze machen.
Der Wissenspfad lädt Schulklassen aber auch explizit ein, nach Lindau zu kommen und sich auf die Spur der Nobelpreise zu machen. Vor Ort kann man deshalb auch gemeinsam einen Preis gewinnen! Interessierte Lehrer können sich gerne mit dem Kuratorium für die Tagungen der Nobelpreisträger in Lindau in Verbindung setzten und weitere Informationen und Materialien erhalten.

Schüler an einem Wissenspylon. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Schüler an einem Wissenspylon. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Am 29. Juni wird der Lindauer Wissenspfad dann offiziell eröffnet

Der Wissenspfad wird während der 67. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung (Chemie), am Donnerstag, den 29. Juni 2017, eröffnet. Der Bayrische Staatsminister für Bildung und Kultus, Wissenschaft und Kunst, Dr. Ludwig Spaenle und der Oberbürgermeister der Stadt Lindau, Dr. Gerhard Ecker, weihen dann den ersten Wissenspylon am Hafen gemeinsam mit Kuratoriumspräsidentin Bettina Gräfin Bernadotte und dem Präsidenten des Stiftungsvorstands der Prof. Otto Beisheim Stiftung, Dr. Fredy Raas, ein.

Ermöglicht wurde der Wissenspfad durch die Unterstützung der Stadt Lindau und der Prof. Otto Beisheim Stiftung.

Big Data Analytics Deliver Materials Science Insights

Finding patterns and structure in big data of materials science remains challenging, so researchers are working on new ways to mine the data to uncover hidden relationships. Credit: Hamster3d/iStock.com

Finding patterns and structure in big data of materials science remains challenging, so researchers are working on new ways to mine the data to uncover hidden relationships. Credit: Hamster3d/iStock.com

 

Developing new materials can be a lengthy, difficult process and innovations in the field come through a combination of serendipity and methodical hard work. Researchers perform many rounds of synthesising new materials and testing their properties, using their chemical knowledge and intuition to relate a material’s structure to its function. The result is materials for tough body armour, thin, powerful batteries or lightweight aircraft components, among many other applications.

To speed materials discovery, researchers are now asking computers to help. Algorithms similar to those that organise our email, photos and online banking can also be used to find patterns in chemical data that relate to a material’s structure and composition.

Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Walter Kohn, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1998. Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Traditional computer modelling of materials uses methods recognised with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1998. Walter Kohn and John Pople shared the prize that year for developing algorithms that modelled molecules using quantum mechanics, improving the accuracy of molecular structure and chemical reactivity calculations. The techniques that Kohn and Pople each developed revolutionised computational chemistry and have continued to be improved to give highly accurate results.

These methods typically work well to predict structural and electronic properties of crystalline metals and metal oxides. But these predictions do not always match measured properties of complex bulk materials and their surfaces under experimental conditions. Predicting properties of bulk materials and their surfaces using current quantum mechanical methods requires lengthy calculations using supercomputers.

To speed up these calculations, chemists are analysing public databases of atomic, chemical and physical properties to find combinations that predict materials properties. They use big-data analytics tools to search for meaningful patterns in the large amounts of data. Algorithms like this already influence our daily lives by filtering spam email, suggesting other items for online shoppers, detecting faces in digital photos, and identifying fraudulent credit card transactions. Although materials scientists have much less data than email providers or online stores, there is still enough publicly available data about atomic properties such as electronegativity, atomic radius and bonding geometry as well as the geometric and electronic structures of various materials that the same analysis tools are still useful. Materials databases include Materials Project in the United States and the Novel Materials Discovery Laboratory in Europe, among others.

Computational materials discovery often involves making predictions for an entire class of materials, such as metals, metal oxides or semiconductors. However, a global prediction may not apply to certain subgroups of materials within that class.

Bryan Goldsmith, a Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Plank Society in Berlin and a young scientist attending the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and his colleagues recently applied a data analytics tool called subgroup discovery to see how physical and chemical properties relate to the structure of gold nanoclusters containing varying numbers of atoms. Gold clusters are a model example of how materials properties change from the bulk to nanoscale. Bulk gold is shiny, inert and yellow in color. Gold nanoparticles, however, are red, catalytic and have dynamic structures.

 

The Novel Materials Discovery Laboratory, a European Center of Excellence established in the fall of 2015, has the world’s largest collection of computational materials science data.

 

Using molecular dynamics simulations, the researchers calculated 24,400 independent configurations of neutral, gas-phase gold clusters containing 5 to 14 atoms at temperatures from -173 to 541 °C (100 to 814K). Next, they predicted the ionisation potential, electron affinity and van der Waals forces between atoms in a cluster, among other properties.

Then the researchers generated various mathematical combinations of the predicted chemical data to produce a large number of possible relationships between different subgroups of gold clusters. Finally, they used subgroup discovery to find the relationships that best predicted cluster structure and their electronic properties.

The algorithm rediscovered the known property that gold nanoclusters with even number of atoms are semiconducting, whereas those with an odd number of atoms are metallic. It also revealed something new about forces that stabilise nonplanar gold clusters: van der Waals forces typically thought to stabilise interactions between molecules contributed more to the stability of nonplanar clusters than planar clusters.

 

A computational prediction for a group of gold nanoclusters (global model) could miss patterns unique to nonplaner clusters (subgroup 1) or planar clusters (subgroup 2). Credit: New J. Phys.

A computational prediction for a group of gold nanoclusters (global model) could miss patterns unique to nonplaner clusters (subgroup 1) or planar clusters (subgroup 2). Credit: Goldsmith et al. Uncovering structure-property relationships of materials by subgroup discovery. New J. Phys. 19 (2017) 013031 (CC BY 3.0)

By starting their data analytics with known properties, the researchers hope to develop predictive models that retain physical and chemical information that is easy for other scientists to interpret, Goldsmith says. “We believe that if you can find these simple equations, they can help guide you to deeper understanding, and hopefully lead to new chemistry and materials insights.”

With more powerful computers, larger databases and novel ways to use the data being developed, data analytics could become increasingly important to researchers synthesising new materials. A database of failed reactions could guide the direction of future experiments, and data analytics tools could speed the interpretation of spectra used to characterise molecules and materials. And in time, researchers hope to predict the outcome of a catalytic reaction or materials synthesis. “Data analytics should be an indispensable part of every chemist and material’s scientist toolkit,” Goldsmith says.

The Impact of Fundamental Science on Researchers and Society

It was not surprising that after the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 some of the most frequently asked questions were “What can we use your research for?” and “Does it have any application?”. These questions may have different origins: First, for non-experts the research honoured with this prize is very difficult to grasp because it is so abstract. Thus, having a (pseudo)application or a visualisation of the research can be powerful. It is no surprise that the “nano-car” received such widespread recognition. The human mind tends to seek some kind of concrete example to help them understand abstract concepts. Second, society finds that research of any kind should have at least some sort of accountability towards its funders, which is oftentimes the public. Third, in a world where we face many challenges, it can be difficult – if not impossible – to see how such research contributes to solving daily problems around us (be it hunger, war, energy, climate change, health, etc.). This “missing link” can lead to frustration and provoke the desire to see immediate benefits and products that improve daily life. Today, an increasing number of aspects of life are put under the scrutiny of innovation, productivity and economic measures. It is thus getting more and more difficult to justify research that has no immediate gain. Fundamental research as such thus seems to be locked in a fight for funding, for professorships and sometimes even for its existence.

The term fundamental science or research as opposed to applied research is used herein to describe research without an immediate apparent value, application or product in mind, often also referred to as basic research. Oftentimes, it sets out to answer a specific (set of) question(s). For this kind of research the following criteria are essential: (1) its outcome is often unknown, (2) the researcher is working at the frontier of knowledge (no one has done anything similar before) and (3) the research extends current knowledge. The research efforts that won this year’s Nobel Prize, but also the discovery of gene editing and experiments conducted at CERN, are excellent examples of this kind of research.

 

#LiNo17 participant Michael Lerch is currently carrying out his doctoral research in the laboratory of Ben Feringa at the University of Groningen. Photo/Credit: Dusan Kolarski

#LiNo17 participant Michael Lerch is currently carrying out his doctoral research in the laboratory of Ben Feringa at the University of Groningen. Photo/Credit: Dusan Kolarski

 

In times of tightening budgets for research and increasing economisation of universities and research outputs in coordination with increased student numbers, fundamental research has been facing scrutiny and has been under attack. This is not necessarily bad as such scrutiny and scarcity of resources could arguably increase quality of research. However within these discussions, some beneficial aspects and effects of fundamental science tend to be forgotten. Hence, I would like to highlight how fundamental science shapes its practitioners and impacts society. Fundamental research is a school of life and plays an important role in fostering critical thinking and creativity. Fundamental science further benefits society, for example, by generating knowledge, by enabling unexpected long-term applications, by forming independent and critical citizens and sometimes by supporting leadership and teaching. For fundamental research to be effective, aspects like credibility in a post-factual world are paramount. It is also critical that researchers and a public that is willing to listen are equal partners in dialogue. To enable such a dialogue, the social competence of researchers becomes important. It is the researcher’s responsibility to actively go out and tell the public why scientists do what they do, what the benefits are and why fundamental research is so important. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings have been playing an essential role in this for decades. In addition, Nobel Laureates are often visionaries of their times and inspiring role-models for both successful approaches in research and experts in the social competences and communication that are so important for the dialogue with the general public.

 

Impact on students

Fundamental science in the way it has been set up since the advent of universities is first and foremost an educational experience for the student. Doing a Ph.D. is often a transformative process and has an immense influence on personal development. This transformative experience is directly linked to the nature of fundamental research. Three aspects are worth highlighting in this context: (1) social toolbox/character formation, (2) critical and analytical thinking and (3) creativity.

One can form character through different tools and approaches. While desirable character traits change with time and are a matter of public debate, there are certain traits that are associated with being successful in life: resilience, frustration tolerance, knowledge of your own limitations, grit, integrity and reliability. Scientific research is challenging and can be very frustrating. As one sets out to learn the basic tools and skills needed to be a successful researcher, one is immediately confronted with one’s own limitations, frontiers of personal but also general knowledge. Many students, although used to writing small pieces of scientific work, have never conducted independent intellectual work before. Doing so is very hard and even more so frustrating. Besides increased anxiety and a feeling of inadequacy, many students feel unhappy about their chosen work as they are not prepared for the stress and frustration that comes with it. Overcoming the daily challenges of research requires hard work, resilience, dedication and persistence and contributes to the education of responsible, independent global citizens.

Furthermore, science has a very high standard and code of conduct at its core. This teaches students integrity and reliability. Appropriate supervision and coaching can be paramount to a student’s success. If one talks to successful Ph.D. students that had a lot of freedom during their doctoral years, they will often say that the first year felt like a lost year: “I did not have a clue how to do research”, “I was so inefficient in the beginning” or “I did not know why and how I should be doing research”. By talking further, it often becomes apparent that even though scientifically this initial period of time might feel “unproductive”, it actually was a period of fundamental transformation of a person’s thinking and provided him or her with the toolbox necessary for research. And it is this aspect, in my opinion, that makes fundamental research valuable as an educational experiment that goes far beyond research itself.

 

Michael Lerch is currently carrying out his doctoral research in the laboratory of Ben Feringa at the University of Groningen. Photo/Credit: Dusan Kolarski

The doctoral candidate develops molecular photoswitches that can control biological functions. Photo/Credit: Dusan Kolarski

 

However, persistence, resilience and hard-work will not bring you all the way. Mental capabilities such as discipline of mind as well as critical and analytical thinking are also of crucial importance. What is taught at university is thus essential for further success in research. The approach to fundamental research makes all the difference between being productive and losing sight of a goal and purpose. This approach, together with the mental, social and intellectual tools that come with it, is something that needs to be taught to younger students and researchers. Take responsibility for yourself, be proactive, choose what you are working for, know why you have chosen this and be able and willing to defend this in front of others. This is not only a scientific education, but in many ways also a political one: learn to not just accept facts as such, but verify them as well as possible, realise the importance of perseverance and that nothing that really matters comes without effort, and build resilience. That does not mean that with having the right approach to research doing it on a daily basis becomes easy – far from it. But having a framework to understand why one is doing something and what it can lead to can help build the resilience needed to succeed not only in science but also in life. In addition, fundamental scientific research is much too frustrating if you do not have the mental and scientific toolbox to at least achieve “mini” victories by reaching intermediate milestones that are publishable and that allow you to feel productive in a certain way. This is also the reason why it is generally advisable to learn from the best practitioners in the field.

Finally, creativity is essential. In physical sciences, where most experiments fail, creativity keeps research going, helps us to see the problems faced each time from a different angle, allows us to come up with new ideas and look at the subject under investigation in ways no-one has ever looked at before.

 

Impact on society

The educational transformation achieved through research described above is important not just for the researcher but also for society. The majority of trained professionals will spill over from academia into other areas of work including industry, consultancy and services. Transferrable skills are important here. Beyond the oft-quoted skills such as presenting, supervision and time-management, exposure to fundamental research is, to a much greater extent, fundamental training in thinking and behaviour, which has benefits for society. Unfortunately, these aspects are often overlooked, because it is so difficult to make non-scientists understand what it really means to conduct fundamental research.

Our places of work are in the midst of ongoing changes. Technological advances are transforming our environment and the way we work and live. Industry 4.0 and advances in automation and artificial intelligence will make knowledge workers more important. The tools and skills acquired through research allow us to find our way in such an environment. Purely economically speaking, the knowledge and skills gained make researchers useful in a broad variety of positions and empower them to be productive and independent workers who make novel discoveries. In addition, beyond the immediate philosophically beneficial gain of knowledge, the answers found through fundamental research are often picked up later in a completely unrelated context and can lead to impressive applications: LCD displays, photodynamic therapy and green fluorescent protein, to name but a few.

The academic world is international with many researchers studying abroad, visiting and experiencing different cultures and regions of the world. With increasing regionalism and the growing importance of nation-states, cultural understanding and global ties are essential. It is then also the openness to new things and the ability to work in multicultural and international teams that make researchers highly valuable additions for employers.

 

Michael studies molecular photoswitches that can control biological functions. Photo/Credit: Dusan Kolarski

Michael in the Feringa lab at the University of Groningen. Photo/Credit: Dusan Kolarski

 

Conclusion

It is important to regularly reflect on the role scientists play in society and on the training that students receive. When fighting for the importance and relevance of fundamental scientific research, researchers have to focus on the aspects discussed and make clear to lay people that fundamental science can make a difference. They also need to explain that research not only has a purpose per se but also that, if done right, it can have tremendous additional beneficial effects, which spill over into our society and impact our future.

Nonetheless, fundamental science also faces challenges from within: researchers need to be more realistic and transparent when communicating goals and practices to a general audience. For an understanding and listening audience, one needs trust. This trust, however, is difficult to build, especially if scientific evidence becomes opinion. Overpromising will certainly not help here. Researchers need to carefully evaluate when and in what way they promote their work and science in general. For parts of society that understand the scientific method, it is necessary and effective to talk about the process of research and why researchers do it instead of just talking about impacts and applications. For other parts of society that lack such an understanding, however, it will be more effective to fight for science without explaining what and why one does something,and this challenges fundamental science: it will always depend to a certain extent on funding sources that need to be satisfied. Scientists need to be aware of this and develop the necessary arguments and the social tact to promote their work. Fundamental scientists are exposed to the frontiers of knowledge on a daily basis. This is sometimes a tough but very often also a rewarding thing to do (playground-analogy). But most importantly, it shapes us and forces us to think beyond boundaries. Many of the leading scientists of the current and past generations have done so during the Lindau Meetings and will also do so this year!

What If You Could Spend a Week with Nobel Laureates?

We asked several of the young scientists who will be attending the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting about their expectations for their week in Lindau. Here are a few select answers:

 

Matias Acosta, Technische Universität Darmstadt:

What would you do if you could meet your role model face to face? What if you could actually spend a week with him or her? This idyllic scenario comes true for us, young scientists, each year during the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. We can meet not one, but many Nobel Laureates and enjoy  their companionship and enriching discussions during one week. How to react and what to expect from this scenario?

I would love to hear how the Nobel Laureates cope with pressure or distractions. What drives them to continue on their way to success? There are of course many questions that I would like to ask at this point. The most important one would be whether the efforts were worth it.

I am sure that obtaining a Nobel Laureate is a life-changing event. The awarded becomes instantly the role model of thousands of young scientists or even of non-academic people. I would like to know about the feelings of the Nobel Laureate when he or she hears that he or she is someone’s role model. Being the role model of many people is not easy. It brings along new duties and responsibilities that I would be very interested to hear. Even more importantly, I would be glad to know how the Nobel Laureate uses these new possibilities and responsibilities to make positive change.

Matias Acosta, Technische Universität Darmstadt

Photo: Courtesy of Matias Acosta

 

Il Jeon, The University of Tokyo:

Amongst many things that I expect from the Lindau Meeting, I have to say networking is the most important one. Through proactive interaction with the qualified scientist froms around the world, I want to form a network of research collaboration.

I am also very keen on the panel discussions. While interacting with the Nobel laureates is of the utmost importance, discussing with other scientists under the supervision of the senior scientists is equally important.

Il Jeon, The University of TokyoPhoto: Courtesy of Il Jeon

 

Funeka Nkosi, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Pretoria, South Africa:

It is a lifetime opportunity and I am grateful for this opportunity. That is why I want to make the most out of this opportunity. I desire to meet at least 30 of the Nobel Laureates coming to the meeting.  To engage with them and other young scientists, exchange ideas and views. I want to learn from them, be inspired and motivated to do great work in science.  I hope my participation in this meeting will result in the development of international research networks that will result in scientific collaborations which will be helpful in growing the research in lithium-ion batteries and energy storage materials in South Africa.

Photo: Courtesy of Funeka NkosiPhoto: Courtesy of Funeka Nkosi

 

Shrikrishnan Sankaran, INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials, Saarbrücken:

This meeting has an excellent selection of Nobel Laureates from way in the past to very recent. I am very eager to learn about their approach to science, career paths, challenges and personal attitudes. Apart from their scientific brilliance, I believe several other personality and environment based factors play a great role in their success. These are some of the things I hope to learn about at this meeting.

Apart from the Laureates, I also expect to have inspiring exchanges with other young and passionate scientists attending the meeting.

Photo: Courtesy of Shrikrishnan Sankaran.Photo: Courtesy of Shrikrishnan Sankaran

 

Ana Torres, Texas A&M University:

I feel pleased to be part of the upcoming 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. I am personally delighted and professionally motivated to be part of this unique event as a proud representative of Mexico. Along my young academic life in Chemistry, I have been inspired in many ways by important and laureate scientists. It could be an honor to have the opportunity to get to know them better and to listen to their personal and academic experiences. Moreover, to exchange professional interests and key concerns of science in such inspiring atmosphere will surely enrich my life and empower me as a woman scientist to reach my goal to pursue an academic job in theoretical chemistry. This opportunity is coming at the right time when I needed encouragement to establish collaborations and go ahead in the next step of my professional life.

Photo: Courtesy of Ana Torres.Photo: Courtesy of Ana Torres

Chemistry Student Jana Kobeissi Wants to Be a Source of Positive Change

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Jana and get inspired. 

 

Photo: Courtesy of Jana Kobeissi

Photo: Courtesy of Jana Kobeissi

Jana Kobeissi, 20, from Lebanon is an undergraduate student at the American University of Beirut. Her research deals with studying the interactions between microorganisms and various macromolecules and expanding this knowledge to real world applications.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I have been fascinated with science for as long as I can remember. My earliest exposure to science was perhaps through the documentaries on Discovery channel, which my older siblings would choose to watch. Even though I was too young to understand all that was discussed, I was exposed to several topics ranging from space to rare diseases to the chemistry of things, and I believe this had a major role in sparking my interest.

When it came to choosing a major at university, it was somehow difficult as I did not have a specific favourite science subject. I ended up choosing chemistry as I found it to be closest to all others – and I was certainly not disappointed. I loved every bit of the first general chemistry course I took as well as the later in-depth courses, marvelling at how integrated chemistry is in everyday life and with other scientific fields, whether it’s mathematics, biology, or physics.

 

Who are your role models?

I do not have a specific role model in science, but I do look up to all the great women out there who have left an indelible mark on the course of humanity. As for my role model as a person, I would choose my mom. I admire how she manages to balance and excel at all aspects of her working and personal life.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

After attending the National Protestant College, I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at the American University of Beirut, where I have great support and guidance. I have had the opportunity to be involved in a research laboratory since the end of my sophomore year and to have my own research project to work on. I am thrilled by the sheer amount of information I am learning in research and by the skills (both practical and personal) that I am developing with the assistance of my mentor, Dr. Pierre Karam.

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

The project I am currently working on is the coolest so far. As it deals with both microorganisms and macromolecules, it involves both chemistry and biology – a fact that I particularly admire. I like how when synthesizing particles and structures, I not only have to think like a chemist, but to consider the system where these structures will be applied; that is, I should think of my bacteria – a system that is alive and sensitive. I sometimes even find myself wondering if my bacteria have had “enough to eat” or if they are “stressed by overpopulation”!

 

Photo: Courtesy of Jana Kobeissi

Photo: Courtesy of Jana Kobeissi

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

A part of my project dealt with synthesizing a metal-coated macromolecule. To achieve the perfect structure, I varied several parameters in a series of experiments, and it took quite some time. At some point, I got to be extremely delighted when I finally viewed the complex with a scanning electron microscope to see a perfectly homogeneous structure covered with metal nanoparticles. It even exceeded my own expectations of how I wanted the structure to be!

 

What is a “day in the life” of Jana like?

My weekday in a regular semester usually starts at about 9 or 10 a.m. In a day early through the week, I prepare bacterial cultures before I go to my first class and carry out the experiment in between classes. I follow up with my experiment in the following days up until I get the results. I usually get back home in the afternoon (sometimes a bit later) and I would have some time to study and do my assignments. Basically, I try to hold a balance between research and university work, but I often find myself inching towards the former as it is more enjoyable! A day in a summer semester is more flexible, and I can find more time to carry out experiments.

For sure, never accept the “you’re a woman” or “that’s what women do” justification.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

As I am still somehow early in the course of my career path, I am still weighing my options: either medical school or graduate school (towards a PhD). I am a fan of all science, and it is difficult for me to decide which field is the most exciting. What I am sure of, though, is that whatever I choose, I will keep on pursuing research, preferably in an interdisciplinary field and will aim to efficiently contribute to scientific knowledge. I also aim to be of benefit to my country, Lebanon, by being a source of positive change.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

If I am not doing research (and not studying), I like to spend time with my friends, read and play the piano. And if it’s a weekend and I can go somewhere away from Beirut and all the city lights I enjoy watching the night sky. If viewing conditions are good, I take out my telescope to have an up-close view of the celestial objects (and try to catch Deep Sky Objects), and sometimes even take pictures as I have recently started experimenting with astrophotography.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

Listen to others’ advice “selectively”. That is, know from whom, when, and in what way you would like to receive guidance and block out all that do not fit your own criteria. For sure, never accept the “you’re a woman” or “that’s what women do” justification.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Jana Kobeissi

Photo: Courtesy of Jana Kobeissi

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

That’s a bit difficult to answer, as science is too broad a subject to have one great breakthrough, but I do believe that finding a long-term solution to antibiotic resistance would be a remarkable aid to global health. I also have faith that this solution will be largely contributed by chemists!

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

From what I have observed, there is no shortage in females interested in science, as most (if not all) my female classmates at school were passionate about at least one science subject. There is, however, a shortage in those who choose a science career, especially that of natural science. At least that is what I have realised in my own country. One of the possible factors is the attitude surrounding gender roles as more importance is pronouncedly placed on a man’s advancement within his career; female ambition in that sense is not encouraged that much. Hence, young women might opt for paths that are not time consuming (and are more family-friendly). For that aspect, a shift in attitude is a must, and that can only happen through time and proper education. The idea that what women do is significant should be fortified. I believe it would be helpful, too, to make this “science path” more flexible for the women who want to start their families early.

Another possible factor is one that is also common here, and it is the requirement to travel abroad to pursue a PhD in notable institutions, especially in the US or Canada, an option that may not always be favoured. Having online programs, perhaps through affiliations with local universities, may serve as an aid for that issue.

Thao Ngo Inspires Future Scientists (Starting with her Nieces)

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Thao H. Ngo

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Thao and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Thao H. Ngo

Thao H. Ngo, 26, from the United States of America is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She studies the changes in structure and composition of hydrogen fuel cell catalysts using in situ characterization techniques including in situ liquid transmission electron microscopy and in situ x-ray absorption spectroscopy. This topic of research is important because researchers can use in-depth knowledge of the catalysts’ evolution to design catalysts with improved performance and durability for commercialization.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

The first chemistry class I took was in 8th grade in Vietnam (I was born and raised there). We mostly learned theory and did not get our hands on any lab experiments as my middle school in Vietnam lacked the funding to provide its students with lab equipment. So when my family moved to the US in 2005, I started high school, took chemistry again, and got to perform chemistry experiments. I remember a particular experiment in which the reaction was releasing a lot of heat, so much heat that it felt hot even through the heat resistant gloves that I was wearing, but I foolishly held on to the beaker, thinking that my experiment’s results were way more important than a minor burn. I did suffer a minor burn that day but my experiment results were saved! I guess that’s when I knew I really love chemistry. In 12th grade, some friends and I participated in a local science fair and won Grand Prize! I think that’s when I knew for sure I wanted to pursue a career in science and so I went on to study Chemical Engineering in college.

 

Thao and her mum. Photo: Courtesy of Thao H. Ngo

Thao and her mum. Photo: Courtesy of Thao H. Ngo

 

Who are your role models?

My role model is my mom. She and my father divorced when I was eight years old. After that, she worked so hard to provide for me and my sister, making sure we never missed out on summer camps or lessons that we wanted to take. When our family moved to the US, things were especially hard for my mom because she did not speak or understand any English nor did she have a professional degree. I remember my mom working three jobs to provide for our family. She then went to cosmetic school and obtained her license to operate as a nail technician in a year. My mom is a role model to me because of her perseverance and dedication to her children. She taught me values that have made me become who I am today.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

I knew I wanted to study chemical science when I was in high school, specifically after I won the Grand Prize in a local science fair. But a career in research started for me when my first mentor, Prof. Lenore Dai at Arizona State University, offered me an undergraduate research position in her lab at the end of my freshmen year. She gave me the chance to work on very exciting projects including one on the recycling of printed circuit boards using a supercritical fluid process. I worked for Prof. Dai until I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, and I publishing three peer-reviewed papers with her. In the summers, I participated in Research Experience for Undergraduates programs at university laboratory across the country. Through these programs, I met and worked for Prof. Keith Hohn of Kansas State University (summer 2011) and Prof. Dibakar Bhattacharyya of the University of Kentucky (summer 2012). I would say that I am very lucky to have met all my undergraduate mentors, who had provided me with guidance, encouragement and support and without whom I am not sure if I would be performing research in graduate school right now. I also have to give my current mentor, Prof. Hong Yang at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a shout-out. He has been there for me since the day I started graduate school.

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

This is a tough question to answer as I love all my projects. But I think my current project is probably the coolest project I’ve worked on. It is already quite amazing to me that scientists have the ability to look at nanoscale, and sometimes even Angstrom-scale, materials using the transmission electron microscopy (TEM). However, because the TEM uses electron as an illumination source and electrons are easily scattered by air, TEM samples have to be ultra-thin and dehydrated so they can be used in an ultra-vacuum environment. With the recent advancement in TEM technology, I study nanoscale materials that are in a dynamically changing environment. I get to flush liquid or gaseous chemicals through and watch how my nanoscale materials are changing.

These moments made me realise that I really need to be more confident in my ability.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

There are a few moments that I could recall but the ones that stand out the most are the moment I received my first graduate school acceptance and the moment when I was awarded with a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I got my first graduate school offer about a week after I submitted my application. It was unbelievable as it was also my top-choice graduate program. I have confidence in my work and ability but never had I imagined I would be a top choice for any programme—there are just so many highly qualified candidates out there. At that moment, I knew that I was on the right path. The second moment when I felt immense pride was when I was awarded with a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program. I applied for it during my last year in college and wrote a research proposal for the first time. Obviously, I was very nervous and was mentally prepared for a rejection as I knew the fellowship is highly competitive. The day I received the award letter, I was on cloud nine. Again, I just couldn’t believe it — I, of all candidates, was chosen to receive such a prestigious fellowship. These moments made me realise that I really need to be more confident in my ability.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Thao H. Ngo

Photo: Courtesy of Thao H. Ngo

 

What is a “day in the life” of Thao like?

I typically get up around 6:30 am and start my day with 15 minutes of yoga or meditation. After that, it’s breakfast time and then off to work. I try to get to my lab at around 8 am. My workday varies depending on whether I have an in situ experiment scheduled. When I do, I would carry my equipment from my lab to the TEM room and stay there for the whole day. Because the TEM is typically operated in a dark room, I often work in the dark and by myself. When I’m not scheduled to perform an in situ TEM experiment, I would spend my day preparing for my upcoming experiments or analysing the data that I recently acquired. There are days when I’m in the lab all day and there are days when I’m at my desk all day, it really depends. I typically take a one-hour lunch break to catch up with friends or emails and daily news. Then it’s back to work. One thing I really enjoy about my lab is the occasional chit-chat with my lab mates. Around 5 pm, I go to the gym for a dance fitness class. Upon returning home after exercising, I cook and enjoy dinner (I cook almost every day). After dinner, I would try to read at least one scientific publication before heading off to bed with a book at around 11 pm.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

After graduate school, I want to continue to pursue my career in research as an industrial R&D researcher. For most of my relatively short career in research, I have spent most of my time in academic laboratory. I am now working at Argonne National Laboratory under a guest graduate research appointment, but I really want to branch out and try the industry next before deciding where I want to be for the long run. The one element I would like to keep constant in my career though is the theme of my research — I would love to continue working on renewable energy-related topics regardless of where I end up at.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

When I’m not working in the lab, I enjoy cooking and exercising. I learned to cook in college when, for the first time in my life, I was away from home and desperately missing my mom’s cooking. I used to think cooking is such a drag but I love it now. I think this might be because the process of cooking is so much like conducting an experiment — there are specific steps to follow and exact quantities of ingredients to use. But unlike doing an experiment, I almost always succeed in producing a reasonably tasty dish every time, which is why I think cooking relaxes me. Of the different types of exercise, my most favourites are dance fitness and yoga. With dancing, I get to let loose and push myself to the limit. Meanwhile, yoga helps me to control my thoughts and relax my mind.

I believe it is important to encourage young girls when they show interest in science at an early age.

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

My advice to other women interested in science/chemistry would be: “Be confident and trust yourself.” This is probably an advice to myself too as I suffer from imposter syndrome from time to time and even now, I still have some doubts. There were times when I felt like I wasn’t progressing or didn’t know what I was doing with my research. There were even times when I seriously consider quitting my PhD. But every time I am faced with doubts, I thought to myself, “why are you here in the first place?”, and the answer has always been because I love what I do and so I persevere.

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

Another tough question. I guess I can only answer this question with regard to my field. I am hoping to see fuel cell cars being driven nationwide. But the infrastructure is not there yet so this might take a while longer.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I believe it is important to encourage young girls when they show interest in science at an early age. This can be done via encouragement from parents and teachers, programmes such as science fair or workshops at local colleges and mentorship programs that connect female scientists with young girls. I was never discouraged by my mom or anyone from a career in science, so I was lucky in that way. In high school, my teachers encouraged me to enter science fairs and in college, multiple professors gave me the opportunity to work in their research groups. Now, I try to do the same for younger female students by volunteering to mentor middle school students who show interests in science. Additionally, I have two young nieces who are very curious. So for their birthdays and on holidays, I would send them boxes that contain materials for a science project; they made their own night lights with circuits and paper lanterns last time I sent them a box. I am hoping to groom my nieces into future scientists!

Women in Research: Apply for That Dream Job, Says Katherine MacArthur

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Katherine MacArthur

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Katherine and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Katherine MacArthur

Photo: Courtesy of Katherine MacArthur

Katherine MacArthur, 28, from the United Kingdom is a postdoctoral researcher at the Ernst Ruska Centre for Microscopy and Spectroscopy with Electrons, Forschungszentrum Juelich, Germany. In her research, she is trying to push the limits of characterising catalyst nanoparticles in the electron microscope. If we can understand their structure better then we can relate this back to their catalytic properties and try to make better catalysts. Can we really count the atoms and determine their atom type and how does that relate to the particles catalytic properties?

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I have always been interested in understanding why things work the way they do. I’m very much an applied scientist/engineer. I like to be solving a real world problem. I remember doing a lot of miniature science/craft projects at home with my mother, for example, growing salt crystals, and clay modelling. I would often dismantle things to see how they were made. Physics and chemistry were always my favourite classes in school. I particular liked the chemistry practicals and mixing chemicals together for different results. I think a lot can be said for exceptional school teachers who make the subject engaging as starting point towards a specific career in that subject.

I fully credit my careers adviser at school for helping me choose which science degree to study. She was the first to suggest Materials Science to me as an option. In particular, the course at Oxford University which had a French language option looked the best option. This is because it combined as many of my A-level subjects as possible (at the time these were Maths, Chemistry, French, Product Design and Theatre Studies). Ok, it didn’t containing anything to with Theatre Studies, but all the other four subjects were covered. In an effort to find out more I booked onto a Materials Open Day in Oxford. A day which I thoroughly enjoyed. There was a vast array of practicals which demonstrated simple materials properties, all of which had a real connection to real world problems that thoroughly appealed to my practical mind set.

 

Who are your role models?

My mother has demonstrated how fruitful life can be juggling a career and family life, she is an inspiration. Otherwise I tend to get small inspirations from many of the people I interact with in my daily life. The variety reminds me that there is no specific route one should take to a permanent position in science. For that reason there is no one person who I can look at a say, ‘I wish I had their career’. Instead, I just look at what aspects of someone’s career I am inspired by.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

The first hurdle in my scientific career came right at the beginning when I chose Materials Science as the degree I wanted to take but realised they recommend Physics A-level which I did not have. I was very fortunate that my school allowed me to take complete the Physics A-Level in one year by taking 1st year and 2nd year courses in parallel, adjusting the timetable completely so that I was able to manage my new set of courses. I got my offer from Corpus Christi College, Oxford and I got my 3 A’s in Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Later on my College Tutor who interviewed me said he is still yet to accept a candidate without Physics A-level, so it was clearly worth the extra effort. I found Oxford both enriching and immensely challenging at the same time. It is difficult to be in such an environment surrounded by some of the best minds without developing some sort of inferiority complex. You have to learn to re-evaluate what you classify as good results, and keep reminding yourself that just because the people you spend your day to day life with are immensely clever, does not diminish how clever you are. Unfortunately, I developed an illness known as IBS which is made considerably worse by stress, and I completed my final exams on quite a lot of painkillers. Now I manage the condition but it flares up occasionally, e.g. if I have a impending deadline that I’m not ready for.

[…] the idea that it is possible to image individual atoms was simply astounding […]

For my final year masters project I chose to specialise in high resolution electron microscopy, the idea that it is possible to image individual atoms was simply astounding. I spent many, many hours imaging gold nanoparticles after different heat treatments and was enjoying it so much I already knew that I wanted to do a PhD in Microscopy. Although I researched many options I actually ended up reapplying to Oxford. However I did change supervisors in order to work with Professor Peter Nellist (my college Tutor), Dr Sergio Lozano-Perez and Dr Dogan Ozkaya. The project was sponsored Johnson-Matthey and so had an industrial focus on the catalysts which I like as a link to real world applications. My PhD in Oxford was rather different to my undergraduate degree. Having three supervisors meant there were always at least 3 branches of the project I could work on at any one time. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect particularly as I find it stops me getting too focused and stuck on any one avenue of research. Towards the end of my PhD (some time in my 3rd year) I began to feel a crisis of confidence, I still wanted to be a scientist but I began to feel like I wouldn’t be good enough to have an academic career. I had been jointly working with two or three other people and I began to worry that there wasn’t anything that I could point at as distinctly my contribution. It also didn’t help that I was still the most junior person in the research group as it consisted of me and two postdocs. They both made me feel like research required a real amount of bravado to convince people that your ideas are the best (at least to get successful funding applications). There was a hunger to survive in research which I saw in them that seemed essential for a career in scientific research and which I felt I lacked. I now believe differently, I think you can be a lot quieter and humbler and people will still notice if you have interesting and worthwhile results. After long discussions with all my supervisors (Dogan help in particular because he was able to explain to me why he left academia for industry) I decided to try out a postdocs position before I made my decision about staying in academia or not.

The coolest project is normally whatever I’m working on at the moment.

The place I’m at now (Forschungszentrum Juelich) was actually chosen slightly at random. I’ve heard one of my colleagues describe it as a Venn diagram approach. My husband and I both spoke to our supervisors and sent out a whole lot of emails to find out the availability of postdoc positions in research groups we liked. We each attached the others CV to our emails with a note asking if they knew of any groups in the area which would have a suitable position for our other half. From that I drew up a list of places I liked and he the places he liked. We ended up with a choice of two places in Germany, Juelich-Aachen or Stuttgart-Karlsruhe. Juelich has 5 top end electron microscopes where most places have only one, making it a fantastic hub of research in microscopy. Unfortunately they didn’t have any money to actually employ me but encouraged me to apply for a Helmholtz postdoctoral scholarship, making it the more risky option but would be fantastic if it worked out. Although it was rather nerve-racking at the time, I started in Juelich on a 3 months contract before I found out if my funding was successful or not. Thankfully it was and I’m now in my second year, thoroughly enjoying science again and having just come back from a 2 month research stay in Australia that I never thought I would do two years ago. I even have it in my sights to try and apply for a tenure track position next year.

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

The coolest project is normally whatever I’m working on at the moment. I never have the inspiration to work on something unless I think it’s cool. That being said there is one project which has just been written up into a first paper that I think has real potential. Essentially, we were able to determine the 3D atomic structure of Pt nanoparticles from a single experimental image. Being able to determine a structure from one image (normally requiring 20 or more) means we can get the atomic structure of several particles in the time it took to get one, leading to higher throughput. It also means we are damaging the particles less under the electron beam the structures we get will be more accurate.

A simulation group in the University of Southampton has now done some modelling calculations on these structures. This is an important step for several reasons; firstly, it’s never been done before. Prior to this modelling has always been carried out on ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ structure with atomically perfect particles in their equilibrium shape. In reality catalyst particles are never going to have ‘perfect’ structures, there will always be kinetic effects in the synthesis or impurities which affect the shape and structure. Therefore to understand real catalysts we need to model real structures. As with most materials science challenges is often the deviations and defects from a perfect crystal structure which actually end of controlling overall materials properties. Therefore being able to characterise and model such defects is essential to understanding exactly what is happening down at the atomic level.

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

The first time I ever tuned a microscope by myself to resolve atomic columns. I was so excited I took a picture on my phone and sent it straight to my boyfriend. I think it might be a bit like when you’re groping and fumbling around to find your glasses. You finally find them and put them on and can suddenly see everything clearly again. It’s as sudden as this in the microscope and it’s beautiful. I love that moment every single time, when your visibility suddenly improves and you can actually see atoms. I still send my (now) husband a picture if I find a particle that is just too pretty and I have to share it with someone.

 

What is a “day in the life” of Katherine like?

Photo: Katherine MacArthur

Photo: Courtesy of Katherine MacArthur

I normally get into work 8-8:15. I pour myself a cup of peppermint tea and check my emails. In 90 percent of my days I will spend all day at my computer. Setting up simulations, analysing data taken on a microscope, writing software or reading/writing papers. I normally get a microscope session once every couple of weeks and it takes me that long to understand the images from a previous session. I have a quick packed lunch and then a group of us go out to play Boules if the weather is nice. When I am on the microscope I will work from 8 am through until I get too tired or until I’ve collected everything I think I can get that day. Therefore if the microscope is working well, I have been known stay well until the middle of the night, because the data coming out of the machine is so beautiful. Plus if you are collecting data after normal working hours, there’s normally no-one around to slam doors or run loud machines and carelessly mess up your data.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I think the way that the scientific community is structured makes it very difficult to have long term goals. My contract only lasts for two more years and each funding application is typically a 3 year timescale. In that time you need to have real results to prove you’ve achieved something which was worth funding. Personally, things have been a little shaken up with the Brexit vote. My husband and I had planned to do 3-4 years in Germany before moving back to the UK. Now I think we are already seeing a drop off in scientific funding options and I think there will be fewer jobs available in research. Therefore we’ve had to come up with a new plan rather quickly. I have a plan to apply for a large 5 year funding grant. If I’m successful with this then my husband and I will be staying in Germany, if we’re not successful then we’ll be looking to move somewhere within the EU. Ideally, I would like to end up in a permanent position linked with a university where I’m also able to do some teaching. I really enjoy sharing my scientific knowledge with other people and really enjoyed my time spent tutoring at Oxford. However, I’m a long way off that just yet so it’s easier to think it short-term goals.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

When I’m not doing research, I’m normally cooking/baking. I normally cook a meal completely from scratch every night. With my IBS I have to avoid ready-made sauces and ready meals. This means I have learned how to make a lot of different things including: currys, pizza, sweet and sour sauce, and various pasta sauces all from scratch. My herb and spice rack is rather extensive for this reason. I find it helps me to relax and unwind from the day I’ve had. Some nights I just throw things into a pan for a quick stir-fry, but other nights (if I have time) I go for something much more complicated. I don’t always have time to cook something extravagant as I have German classes, Bible study and dancing most nights of the week.

I would recommend […] always applying for a position you like the look of even if you worry that you might not fulfill all the criteria.

Of those activities my main passion is the dancing. During my time in Oxford I learned to dance Latin, Ballroom, Salsa, Rock and Roll among others. Now I just limit myself to acrobatic rock and roll twice a week. There’s nothing quite like being thrown upside down to clear your head! Plus I learned during my time in Oxford where the motto is ‘work hard, play hard’ that after a mentally tiring day you sleep an awful lot better if your physically tired as well.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

As corny as it sounds I would say believe in yourself or find someone who believes in you. Whenever I have a small crisis of confidence or worry that things aren’t going to come together in time, I have a wonderful husband who reminds me of all the things I have achieved and so why would this situation be any different. I would recommend thinking positively and always applying for a position you like the look of even if you worry that you might not fulfill all the criteria. In all my discussion on gender issues and why there aren’t enough women in high ranking positions, there was one statistic that stood out for me. It said that most men will normally apply for a job even if they only fulfill 60 percent of the criteria, whilst most women will wait until they fulfill 100 percent of the criteria before applying for a position. If this statistic is true there are lot of women out there who take themselves out of the running of top jobs by not even applying in the first place.

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

In the field of electron microscopy I think the biggest breakthroughs come through in instrumentation. For chemistry this has come in the form of new holders which allow the in-situ flow of gas or liquids around the sample whilst still being able to image with the electron beam. This is still an expanding area of research and currently has made a lot of pretty videos but is a lot harder to understand the exact processes going on. Getting real catalysts in under microscope in reactive conditions, I think will be essential to really understanding the catalytic process and how to improve it. I think I lot more can be done in terms of quantification. Can we measure the exact ratio of the gases going in and coming out (this is tricky as very small volumes are involved)? Can we track compositional changes with time and understand particle degradation processes? For Fuel-Cell catalysts there has been a lot of success in developing better catalysts than those commercially available, but the problem is over time the particles degrade and activity is lost. We need to understand and prevent these degradation mechanisms in order really achieve more efficient Fuel-Cells.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

Personally I think it’s still more an issue of cultural expectations than anything else. I don’t think we’ll ever be close to reaching gender equality until it is just as socially acceptable for a man to change his surname after marriage as it is for a woman. Far too many people had an opinion on what I was going to do with my surname when I got married. This was an issue which was entirely mine as it was completely assumed that my husband (also a scientist) would keep his name exactly as it is. It may sound like a trivial thing, but I think about it: scientific achievement is measure by how many papers and citations you have. If you choose to modify your name you need to do it carefully so that all your papers can still be attributed to you. Otherwise you are losing out just because you changed your name.

I don’t think we’ll ever be close to reaching gender equality until it is just as socially acceptable for a man to change his surname after marriage as it is for a woman.

I think the ratio of female to male really drops of during the postdoctoral years. Spending your time on limited 1 or 2-year fixed termed contracts doesn’t really provide a great deal of stability financially. I think women worry about this more, especially if they’re looking to start a family. Also as I said above not enough women are applying for the top end positions, so they may be moving from postdoctoral positions to permanent positions later in their career. In Germany they try to actively combat this issue with positive discrimination. For example, they have a professorship funding option available only to women and some of their lower level funding specifies that at least 40 percent of the awards will be given to women. I still haven’t decided if I agree with this practice or not, but if it does succeed in encouraging more women to apply then it could be a good approach. However, it might leave some people believing they only got the position in order to ‘fill a quota’.

Sir Harry Kroto passed away

Everyone involved with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings is deeply saddened about the passing of Sir Harold Kroto, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry who died on Saturday, 30 April at the age of 77. He was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside Robert Curl and Richard Smalley “for their discovery of fullerenes”.

Harry Kroto was a 10-time Lindau participant and universally loved for his humour, heart and for being a relentless ambassador of science to the rest of society.

To learn more about the life of Harold Kroto, visit his profile in the mediatheque.

 

Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Peter Badge/Typos1/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Peter Badge/Typos1/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

 

Walter Kohn passed away

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings mourn the loss of Walter Kohn, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.  He passed away at the age of 93 on 19 April.

Walter Kohn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998 “for his development of the density-functional theory” together with co-recipient John A. Pople. Kohn took part in 9 Lindau Meetings and was particularly beloved because of his affectionate nature and his great enthusiasm to engage with young scientists.

To learn more about the life of Walter Kohn, visit his profile in the mediatheque.

 

Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Photo: Peter Badge/typos1

Photo: Peter Badge/typos1

 

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings