Tamás Vámi interviews Scientific Chairman Lars Bergström

Professor Lars Bergström is one of the two scientific chairmen of the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (alongside Prof. Rainer Blatt). The theoretical physicist from the University of Stockholm is a member of the Physics Section fo the Royal Swedish Academy and also serves as a deputy board member of the Nobel Foundation. His interviewer, Hungarian Tamás Vámi, is a particle physicist at CERN and one of almost 400 young scientists taking part in this year’s Lindau Meeting.


Tamás: Lars, you are one of the two scientific chairmen of this year’s Lindau Meeting. What can we expect from the scientific programme of #LiNo16?

Lars Bergström: I think we will see a vibrant programme with many memorable talks. Of course it is especially gratifying that the most recent Physics Laureates are present, and that also many Laureates in Chemistry contribute to the programme. Taken as a whole, this year we will have excellent overviews of diverse scientific areas from the persons who were instrumental in creating them. 


Tamás: There are many candidates for Dark Matter. Which model is closest to your heart, which is the one that is the most promising in your opinion?

Lars Bergström: This is a difficult question. Experience tells us that in science it is not always good to “fall in love” with a particular theoretical model. I think the answer is at the moment in the hands of our brilliant experimentalists, and we have to keep an open mind and see what they find. Weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) and axions belong to the most studied dark matter candidates, but nature could be more subtle.


Tamás: Dark Energy is one of the biggest mysteries of our days. There are many theories about it, but what are the experimental methods of studying it?

Lars Bergström: The thing that distinguishes dark energy from dark matter is that dark matter is gravitationally attractive, whereas dark energy on the contrary is repulsive. This means that the expansion of the universe, which would slow down if there was only matter present, will instead accelerate. This accelerated expansion can be seen on very large length scales as it e.g. makes distant supernovas dimmer than they would otherwise appear. It seems, however, to be very difficult to see effects of dark energy locally, such as in the solar system.


Tamás: 2016 is certainly a very exciting year for science: The LIGO experiment announced the detection of gravitational waves and there is a sign of new physics at the LHC with the “750 GeV bump”. How do you think these announcements could affect your field? (eg. gravitational waves – dark energy connection?, 750 GeV bump – dark matter connection?)

Lars Bergström: I do not think it will affect either the modeling of dark energy, or enter the explanation of the tentative 750 GeV resonance. However, a new subfield of astroparticle physics and cosmology will likely be created: gravitational astronomy. Here one would study some of the most extreme events happening inside and outside our galaxy, like the merger of neutron stars or of black holes. This is an unchartered area where many surprises may be hiding.


Tamás: Are there any possible breakthroughs in Science that you wish to live to see? What is it and why do you think it is important?

Lars Bergström: Having worked for three decades with the dark matter problem, the identification of the particle constituting dark matter would be highest on my wish list. Then there are many areas of quantum physics, like quantum communication or quantum computing, where breakthroughs may happen that could even change our everyday lives. But of course many discoveries and inventions have been total surprises, and maybe that is how progress will be made. The young scientists at #LiNo16 live at a time when they can make use of past achievements to make such breakthroughs – if they just remember to be bold and creative, like the Laureates were that they will get in touch with here in Lindau! 


Tamás: How do you see the role of the individual vs. collaborations in Science?

Lars Bergström: Collaborations are of course made up of individuals, and in physics we often need very large collaborations to make progress, e.g. in particle physics or cosmology. Fortunately, for the Nobel Prizes in Physics, it has so far been possible to identify at most three persons that were crucial for the awarded discovery or invention, and hopefully that will be possible, although perhaps more difficult,  in the future.

Junge Physikerinnen im Rampenlicht

Unter den diesjährigen Teilnehmern des 66. Lindau Nobelpreisträgertagung befinden sich zahlreiche junge begabte Physikerinnen.

Einige haben mir im Vorfeld des Meetings mehr Einblick in ihr Leben gewährt und sich zu den folgenden 10 Fragen geäußert:

  1. Was hat Dich inspiriert in der Physik zu arbeiten?
  2. Wer sind Deine Vorbilder?
  3. Wie bist Du dorthin gekommen, wo Du gerade arbeitest?
  4. Was war das coolste Projekt an dem Du je gearbeitet hast und warum?
  5. In welchem Moment war Du besonders stolz auf Dich / auf Deine Arbeit?
  6. Wie sieht ein Tag in Deinem Leben aus?
  7. Was willst Du in Deiner Karriere erreichen?
  8. Was machst Du neben der Forschung?
  9. Welchen Ratschlag würdest Du anderen Frauen geben, die sich für Physik interessieren?
  10. Was könnte der nächste große Durchbruch in der Physik sein?

Darüber hinaus wollte ich auch noch wissen, was ihrer Meinung nach unternommen werden muss, um die Anzahl von weiblichen Professorinnen in der Physik zu erhöhen.

Lasst Euch inspirieren von…

Lola (29) aus Spanien, Charlotta (22) aus Deutschland, Gabriela (33) aus Brasilien, Ana Isabel (30) aus Spanien, Katarzyna (29) aus Großbritannien, Ayesha (24) aus Pakistan, Irene (23) aus Spanien, Winifred (25) aus Ghana, Birgitta (35) aus Deutschland, Anastasiia (26) aus Russland, Anna-Christina (26) aus Deutschland, Zaynah (28) aus Mauritius, Cora (27) aus Deutschland, Tara (26) aus Slovenien, Ann-Katrin (29) aus Deutschland,…

Alle Interviews sind auf dem Women in Research Blog zusammengetragen. Vielleicht ist beim nächsten Treffen auch ein Eintrag von Euch dabei!


Spotlight on Young Women in Physics at Lindau

Several young talented female physicists are among this year’s participants at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

Some of them gave me an insight into their life in advance of the meeting by answering the following 10 questions:

  1. What inspired you to pursue a career in physics / STEM?
  2. Who are your role models?
  3. How did you get to where you are in your career path?
  4. What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
  5. What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
  6. What is a “day in the life” of you like?
  7. What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
  8. What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
  9. What advice do you have for other women interested in physics / STEM?
  10. In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics research?

Furthermore, I wanted to know what should be done in their opition to increase the number of female professors in physics.

Get inspired by…

Lola (29) from Spain, Charlotta (22) from Germany, Gabriela (33) from Brazil, Ana Isabel (30) from Spain, Katarzyna (29) from the UK, Ayesha (24) from Pakistan, Irene (23) from Spain, Winifred (25) from Ghana, Birgitta (35) from Germany, Anastasiia (26) from Russia, Anna-Christina (26) from Germany, Zaynah (28) from Mauritius, Cora (27) from Germany, Tara (26) from Slovenia, Ann-Katrin (29) from Germany,…

All interviews are gathered on the Women in Research Blog and might include an interview with you during the next meeting as well.


Five questions to a Nobel Laureate: Jack Szostak



How much sleep do you need and does it affect your work?

I sleep about 6 or 7 hours. If you can’t get enough sleep, you can’t really pay attention to things.


Are you addicted to something? Science cannot be the answer

Not really. I drink coffee in the mornings, but that’s about it. At conferences I drink more than usual, but that’s about it.


What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

I like lots of different kinds of things. Doing things outside, such as hiking.


Where do your best ideas come from?

I think it’s quite important to give yourself some time to think. I try to make sure, almost everyday, that I have some period to sit quietly and think about new experiments.


What one advice would you give to young scientists?

If you really like doing science and want to have a life in science, then you should try to do something really significant and not just small, incremental things. Think of a big problem that really grabs your interest and focus on that.

Five questions to a Nobel Laureate: William Phillips


How much sleep do you need and does it affect your work?

On average, I go to sleep between 12.30am and 1.30am. Then I get up around 7.30am. I’m probably not efficient when I’m tired, like everyone else.

Are you addicted to something? Science cannot be the answer

I don’t believe I’m addicted to any chemical. I drink a little but no coffee. Mostly I get caffeine from diet colas, but I don’t particularly like them.

What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

We have a joke in my family. It’s not considered a holiday if it involves physics or family. And under that definition, we have not had a holiday since 1972. According to a more normal definition, a holiday is at a place which has a lot of stimulating features, either artistically, naturally, intellectually, or in the company of good friends. On that scale, this conference is just like a holiday.

Where do your best ideas come from?

The past, that is I had all my good ideas when I was young. Now the best ideas are not my ideas but those of the young people I work with.

How does creativity play a role in science?

The only way science advances is through creativity, if you define creativity as doing something new. What things lead to creativity? That’s different for different people, but for me I find it in the company of smart people. It comes from throwing ideas around, discussing and beating them out. I like a good fight, scientifically speaking, because it is when we disagree with something that we are likely to learn something new.

Five questions to a Nobel Laureate: David Gross


How much sleep do you need and does it affect your work?

I try to sleep for 8 hours, but on average I get about 7 hours. When I’m thinking hard, I need more sleep. Actually, I think a lot of work gets done while sleeping.


Are you addicted to something? Science cannot be the answer

New knowledge (says so while smoking). I also prefer coffee.


What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

My wife jokes that I wouldn’t want to go to a beach, because after a day of sitting around I’ll go crazy and start causing trouble. One of my main goals in life, if not the main goal, is to not be bored.


Where do your best ideas come from?

I wish I knew. A lot of the work on solving problems is done by some portion of the brain without knowing. It often happens that, when I’m talking to someone, I say something that I had no idea where that thought came from. So I stop myself and I say, “Wow, that’s pretty interesting.”


What one advice would you give to young scientists?

Do what you enjoy, because then you’ll enjoy the journey

Five questions to a Nobel Laureate: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan



How much sleep do you need and does it affect your work?

I usually go to bed about 10pm or so. I wake up between 6am and 7am. I can’t function very well without a good night’s sleep.


Are you addicted to something? Science cannot be the answer

I’m addicted to surfing news articles on the internet. That’s a very bad addiction, because most of the things I read are not very lasting. If I hadn’t read them, there would be no consequence whatsoever. But the internet has this addictive quality, and it’s one thing I’m trying to control.


What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

A perfect holiday would be either going on a hike or a bicycle ride, where I’m doing things outdoors and not thinking about all the stresses of life. Definitely away from email and work-related things.


Where do your best ideas come from?

Often they come when I’m engaged in some leisure activity. For instance, I’m on a walk or a bike, and suddenly without knowing I’m thinking about some problem that’s been bothering me. In these moments, a new approach might occur to me. Occasionally, good ideas will come from reading something I wasn’t expecting to read. And very occasionally, they come from people I meet, who may not be in my field but have an insight into my work that hadn’t occurred to me because the person’s an outsider.


What one advice would you give to young scientists?

Do something where you really care about the answer, because fads in science don’t last and the process of science can often be very tedious. You have to really care about the question and know the importance of finding the answer. That’s the most important thing, because it will keep you interested and motivated.

Five questions to a Nobel Laureate: Dan Shechtman



How much sleep do you need and does it affect your work?

On a normal day, I go to sleep at about 11pm and wake up at about 5.45am. When I’m travelling, I don’t have jet lag. I just sleep when I can.


Are you addicted to something? Science cannot be the answer

Many things. I’m addicted to aesthetics. I like arts: Be it music or paintings. I’m an old-style lover, and I don’t understand modern art. I’m addicted to films. I like to watch classics, and see them again and again. Show me Casablanca one evening and I will watch it.


What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

I love being in nature. I enjoy watching flora and fauna.


Where do your best ideas come from?

I search for a problem to be solved or a need to be fulfilled.


What one advice would you give Young Scientists?

If you want to succeed in your career, develop “emotional intelligence”. Learn to see the other and learn to relate to them. Learn to express your opinion and deliver your ideas eloquently.