Women in Research: Apply for That Dream Job, Says #LiNo17 Participant Katherine MacArthur

Interview with 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’.

“Persistence” – #LiNo17 participant Karen Stroobants’ key to success

Interview with young scientist Karen Stroobants

This is the beginning of a new series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog  that will feature 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 Karen and get inspired.


Photo: Courtesy of Karen Stroobants

Photo: Courtesy of Karen Stroobants

Karen Stroobants, 29, from Belgium is a Postdoc at the University of Cambridge, UK and one of the young scientists that will participate in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting dedicated to Chemistry. Karen’s current group has established that membrane proteins of mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells, are likely to play a role in the pathways of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. She is investigating the misfolding behaviour of such proteins, and the way the cell responds to it, with the goal to identify potential new targets for therapeutic purposes.


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

I always had an interest in science, and biology in particular as it was more accessible as a kid (I had a toy microscope and ‘devised’ a cardboard box to take ‘röntgen’ scans of my stuffed toys). I however only realised I would pursue a career in science when I had my first lessons in chemistry, in the third year of secondary school. Studying chemistry throughout high school was very playful and enjoyable for me, and I noticed it wasn’t for everyone. I helped out several classmates with revising before tests, and I felt I had identified a strength that could well be worth further pursuing. Four years later, I started my bachelor in chemistry with the same enthusiasm and I have never regretted that choice since.


Who are your role models?

One of the key moments in high school that without doubt has further supported my interest and enthusiasm in chemistry was the class that thought us about the discoveries of Marie Skłodowska-Curie. I have been intrigued by her life path and accomplishments from the first time I heard about her, and she remains my most important role model today.

I further have encountered amazing women along the way. Important role models to me are Professor Tatjana Parac-Vogt, my PhD supervisor, who is an amazing chemist and has shown me that there is no need to adapt to male behavior to pursue a career in science, Professor Dame Athene Donald, the Master of Churchill College (where I am a By-fellow), who is not only a brilliant physicist but also has a profound interest in science policy and Professor Dame Carol Robinson, who became the first female chemistry Professor both in Cambridge and Oxford, after having taken an eight year career break to take care of her children.


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

The key word in my career so far is ‘persistence’. I have always had goals in mind, and I have worked very hard to reach them. I knew that I wanted to go for a Master in chemistry from the third year of secondary school, that I wanted to do a PhD from the second year at university and that I wanted to do a post-doc in the lab of Professor Chris Dobson at the University of Cambridge from the third year of my PhD. Once my mind is set on something, I work towards that goal.

I have been very lucky to always receive the full support of my parents, who have financed my full education, from primary school all the way to university. When I decided to do a PhD, I immediately received support from Professor Tatjana Parac-Vogt, who also was the supervisor of my master thesis. Tanja encouraged me to write a proposal for the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), and, with her help, I received a fellowship before even finishing my master. During the PhD, I collaborated with a group at ULB in Brussels, where I met a former post-doc of the Dobson group. She gave me the support I needed to grasp this potential opportunity. I sent at least five e-mails to Chris before I received an invitation for an interview in Cambridge. When I pointed this out to him later, his response was to the point: ‘Persistence is a good quality in a scientist.’ Fair enough :-).


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

I would say it is my current one. Over the past seven years, I have worked in the fields of cardiovascular disease detection (during my Bachelor), artificial enzyme development (during my Master and PhD) and neurodegeneration (now, as a post-doc). The common denominator has been my expertise in spectroscopy and other biophysical techniques, whereas the topics and applications have spanned fundamental chemistry as well as the life sciences. My current project is on the role of mitochondria, mitochondrial proteins in particular in neurodegenerative diseases. One could say that I have moved away somewhat from the basic chemistry I studied towards biochemistry and the border with biology even. Maybe I have touched ground again with the science that had initially sparked my enthusiasm as a kid? My drive for this project surely further is related to the stories my mum used to bring home. She works with people with dementia; some of the situations she encounters are devastating. I aspire to contribute to the establishment of effective therapies for these conditions in some way.


Photo: Courtesy of Karen Stroobants

Photo: Courtesy of Karen Stroobants

When have you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

There are two moments of extreme pride that I can point out without hesitation. The first one is my public PhD defence. This final presentation in Belgium goes hand in hand with a public event where family and friends are invited and it was one of the best days in my career so far. One of the reasons is without doubt the festive element to it, but, more importantly, it marks the successful finalisation of several years of, sometimes very exciting, sometimes quite frustrating, hard work.

The second moment was the day I was informed by the European Commission that I had successfully secured a Marie Skłodowska-Curie post-doctoral Fellowship. I had compiled my first application for this prestigious fellowship that is associated with the legacy of my ultimate role model, two years earlier, but had failed to secure it in this round. I tried again one year later, taking on board the feedback I received, and my persistence allowed me to reach another goal. The research proposal I had put forward to secure the grant has meanwhile brought me to Warsaw in Poland, the birthplace of Marie Skłodowska-Curie.


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

I try to be at the department around 8.30 (although I probably arrive at 9.00 as often), and usually know what to start on in the lab. At the moment I am working with S. cerevisiae or baker’s yeast cells, and their growth and needs in part define my schedule. Today I got in and immediately checked how they had been growing overnight. It was a good day, they had behaved as expected and I could start my experiment. I added a compound in their nutrient solution to initiate the production of a specific protein, and let them grow for another few hours. In the meantime, I prepared a discussion on model organisms in neurodegeneration for the day after, and skimmed through my e-mails. At this point, I was the one craving nutrients, so I texted my colleagues to go for lunch.

After lunch, my yeast cells were ready to be harvested, by spinning them down at a high speed. The procedure to do so, and collect them in batches relevant to my experiment, took me most of the afternoon. In between, I planned out the experimental work for the next day, and prepared the necessary solutions and yeast cell cultures to get going again in the morning. Before going home, I usually have another look at my inbox and take time to answer e-mails that I had just skimmed over earlier in the day. In the evening, I either spend most of my time in the kitchen, or go for a gym session or run along the river Cam (in which case my lovely housemate Lily Chan provides dinner). My runs are not entirely science free, as they usually allow my mind to drift and come up with new ideas, some better than others admittedly.


What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

While my current project has again sparked my enthusiasm for the science itself, and is at a stage where new ideas pop up during every run, I have for a while now played with the idea of leaving the path of an academic for a full-time career in science policy. Where I have in every previous step known well in advance what I wanted to do, this is probably the first time that I am not so sure…

As a scientist, my research has brought me to the study of our energy production pathways and the organelles related to it in the context of neurodegeneration. Would I be happy to further expand my knowledge in this direction, and push the border of our understanding through my own ideas? I certainly would, and I know I enjoy supervising students, editing articles, writing grant proposals and teaching as well.

As a science communicator, I feel the science community has a lot to learn in terms of effective communication, with policy makers, industry as well as the general public. Would I find as much satisfaction in taking up a role either as policy advisor, in a learned society, or supporting researchers in their communication strategy? I probably would, in fact there is only one way to find out…

And there are even more careers to consider. With the right balance between science and policy initiatives, I keep my options open for now. The future will tell.


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

I have already mentioned my pleasure in cooking and exercising on week evenings. Whereas my runs often stimulate my brain to wonder about new ideas, cooking for me is the ultimate form of relaxation. While I work with my hands, my mind is completely distracted, or rather fully occupied with assessing the type of pasta to go with a specific sauce or the quality of the seasoning.

One evening a week, and part of my weekends, is devoted to extracurricular endeavours, mostly related to science communication and science policy. I am currently Head of workshops for the Cambridge University Science Policy Exchange initiative, an organization that aims to provide insight into the process of policy design and portray the communication difficulties commonly experienced during science-policy exchanges to fellow University staff. I further am involved in the Global Shapers Hub in Cambridge, the policy work group of the Marie Curie Alumni Association, and the policy challenges initiative of the Cambridgeshire County Council. These initiatives indeed take up some of the time that I could otherwise further spend on my science. I however hope that these efforts will be as valuable as they might contribute to re-installing the importance of evidence-advised policy in a world currently ruled by ‘alternative facts’.


Photo: Courtesy of Karen Stroobants

Photo: Courtesy of Karen Stroobants

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

My most important piece of advice to anyone pursuing a career in science would be: ‘Be persistent’. This probably is applicable much broader, for reaching life goals in general. I do believe this characteristic has brought me where I am now, and where I anticipated being a few years ago.

For women more specifically, I have two more pieces of advice. First, do not underestimate yourself. There are plenty of studies showing that while men tend to overestimate themselves, women tend to do the opposite. Just remembering this basic fact does encourage me to present myself more confidently and I am sure this has made the difference at a number of occasions.

Second, define your own work-life balance and communicate clearly about it to superiors. Scientists are in general very passionate about what they do, which can result in a seemingly endless enthusiasm to work long hours, weekends and bank holidays. If one enjoys this, that is perfectly fine, however, I felt very early in my career that I need time to go for a run, meet with a friend, go on a weekend away, all on a regular basis. In addition, I have committed to spend part of my time to science policy initiatives. Of course I have an occasional late night or weekend in the lab, but I make a point of taking very conscious decisions on how I want to spend my ‘out-of-office-hours’ time, as I realise how precious it is.


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

The hardest question last :-). I imagine I would answer this question differently on a day-to-day basis depending on what I just read, or what occupies me at the moment. I think very generally in science, we, the human race, have a number of huge issues to address, including growing inequality, climate change, and healthcare. I believe breakthroughs can be expected in the fields of renewable energy and antibiotic resistance fairly soon. The fight against inequality is a different matter. Social scientists are certainly delivering evidence for the expected success of a basic income for everyone, but I fear we will have to wait longer for the practical implementation of such solutions.

In my own field, I feel great progress is being made as an accumulation of a vast amount of ‘small steps’. The brain remains one of, if not the most complex organ to understand. I always feel entertained by this irony: ‘Will the human brain ever be able to fully understand its own complexity?’ Although I obviously cannot answer this question, I do feel we are answering one small question at a time, and continuously move closer to that anticipated understanding. Both in terms of fundamental processes, and disease mechanisms, great work is being done, and I expect this to lead to breakthroughs in the field within the next decade.


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

Although a lot of programs have been set up within institutions and universities to address the gender imbalance in academia specifically, I believe more general societal changes will have a larger impact. First, I believe most governments still underestimate the key role of teachers, from kinder garden to university, in shaping individuals and with it the next generation and its thinking. Good teachers, that share their interest in the world around them and are accessible for all children, are of vital importance to motivate youngsters to take up studies in the sciences. Female teachers, as role models, in addition can further stimulate girls in particular to see the feasibility of pursuing a STEM career.

Second, changes that contribute to a more gender balanced society more generally will result in an increased number of female scientists. The girl – boy mentality gets fed to our children from a very early age, with gender specific toys, activities and behaviour. I believe there are huge opportunities for behavioural scientists to address many of these issues. One example I immediately think of in later life is the issue of parental leave. It has been proven that allocating part of this leave to the male parent by default would have profound effects on the work-life balance of both parents in the long-term. Many more recommendations in this respect are out there already, waiting to be implemented.

8 Female #LiNo16 Participants that will convince you to apply for a future Lindau Meeting

The 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (26 June – 1 July 2016) dedicated to the field of physics is over, but the planning of the next Lindau Meeting has already started. Here you can find several impressions of young women in physics who participated in #LiNo16.

Hopefully they will convince you to apply for next years’s 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (dedicated to chemistry) taking place from 25 to 30 June 2017.


Winifred Ayinpogbilla Atiah, 25, from Ghana

Winifred (second from left) with Nobel Laureates

Winifred (second from left) with Nobel Laureates Daniel Shechtman (second from right) and Martin Karplus (center)

My experience at the Lindau Nobel-Laureate Meeting is one I term as an unforgettable experience. First and foremost the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting afforded me an opportunity to having a one-to-one interaction with Nobel Laureates I only before saw on the internet and also meeting with colleagues who are working similar or close to my research study. I loved the exposure, the atmosphere and the discussions so much. I had the opportunity to be involved in panel discussions and attended the leadership breakfast meeting which has really enlightened me in various prospects. In summary: The LNLM is a must go meeting.

I encourage young women who have no knowledge of this meeting to attend because this meeting opens many opportunities for you as a young women in research to broaden your horizons in diverse ways and also help broaden your networks.

Read more about Winifred.


Ana Isabel Maldonado Cid, 30, from Spain

Ana at the harbor in Lindau

Ana at the harbor in Lindau

The 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting has been an extremely good opportunity to meet excellent scientists at all levels, ranging from Nobel Laureates to undergraduate students.

I’ve had the pleasure to meet and discuss with some of the Laureates. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk a bit with Prof. Klaus von Klitzing, who is now working at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart, where I have worked as a postdoctoral researcher about a year and a half ago. I also found it very inspiring to talk to Prof. Brian P. Schmidt about science leadership and to Prof. Carl E. Wieman about teaching in university.

Of course, the talks, panels and discussions with the laureates were all very interesting as they dealed with very important aspects of science, such as gender. In particular, I had a very good experience when participating in the press talk about migration and science presented by Physics World. I believe that through the exchange of experiences with the laureates in chemistry, Professors Dan Schechtman and Martin Karplus, I’ve learned a lot.

I also had the real pleasure to meet and talk not only about science, but about life itself, with many of the selected young scientists who were attending the meeting last week. I think I have made many new friends and I hope I will be able to stay in touch with them from now on.

In conclusion, attending to this Meeting has been an intense and wonderful professional and personal experience for me and that’s why I strongly encourage other women in science to apply for attending to it.

Read more about Ana.


Katarzyna Tych, 29, from the U.K.

Katarzyna Tych (second from right) with other #LiNo16 participants and Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich (second from left) in a German beer garden

Katarzyna (second from right) with other #LiNo16 participants and Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich (second from left) in a German beer garden

Before attending the meeting, I was excited and a little nervous, unsure as to whether I would have the confidence to speak to any Nobel Laureates – or even have the opportunity to do so. I knew that I would see some incredible lectures, and I hoped that I might meet some fellow young scientists and learn some new science.

As it turned out, the meeting vastly exceeded my expectations. From day one, everybody was so friendly and open – introducing themselves, asking about each other’s work, keen to learn and make new friends – and this led to a really warm and engaging atmosphere. We had many opportunities to speak with Nobel Laureates, in a relaxed and informal setting, which made it much less intimidating to do so, and meant that we could learn a lot from these inspiring people.

One of the great things about the meeting, that many people remarked upon, was that we had the impression that female participants were well represented. This meant that we had the opportunity to speak to many other women in science, share our experiences, and discuss how to encourage more women to go into the physical sciences.  This made us feel more welcome, and more confident in our positions as female scientists. 

Read more about Katarzyna.


Charlotta Lorenz, 22, from Germany

Charlotta Lorenz

Charlotta with Nobel Laureate Johann Deisenhofer in Lindau

When I arrived in Lindau I knew the conference was a huge event, but it took me a week to realize that I felt like everybody could just stay another week to get to know all the participants I had not met and to talk even more to those ones I had just met. But everybody was already exhausted from the great, but full program, so that it’s good that we got a rest.

It’s hard to name one moment as the most memorable one; I guess it’s more the “Lindau spirit”, i. e., many highly motivated and interested young people and Nobel Laureates at the same place exchanging research ideas, but also general, society-concerning thoughts.

During one dinner I sat next to Johann Deisenhofer and we talked about research, the American society and many other topics. Another young researcher worked on the same setup I am going to work on, so I was happy to hear a talk from her during one of the master classes. But it also turned out that there are many parallels between different specializations, e.g. image processing in bio- and astrophysics.

I can only encourage women to apply to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings as there will be many other women with the same motivations, interests and future plans. It’s very inspiring to talk to everybody and share experiences!

Read more about Charlotta.


Irene Alda, 23, from Spain

Irene Alda (second from right) with new #LiNo16 friends

Irene (second from right) with new #LiNo16 friends on Mainau Island

The 2016 Lindau Nobel Meeting was a  week full of knowledge, experiences,  fun moments, and inspiring people. It was great to receive tips from David Gross on being creative: be interested in more things outside physics; and dealing with frustration: work always with more than one problem at a time. Or seeing that  Kurt Würthrich used to practice high jump and that Bill Phillip’s secret to happy life is a positive attitude and finding balance in the different phases of your life.

Everyone should apply to this meeting: be ready to be “wowed”! Perhaps, because of how society shapes “our thoughts and beliefs”, there are less women in Physics: women should definitely apply. In most cultures it is difficult to find women in Physics (compared to other fields like Biology or Medicine). Events like these are inspiring and give you energy to achieve whatever you set your mind to.

Read more about Irene.


Ayesha Azez, 24, from Pakistan

Ayesha Azez (left) with Nobel Laureate William Phillips on Mainau Island

Ayesha (left) with Nobel Laureate William Phillips on Mainau Island

When it comes to describing my impressions of the meetings, I believe I’m now more educated, inspired and motivated by the work of Nobel Laureates and was able to make a lot of connections with other young scientists doing some exciting science. 

My favorite Nobel Laureate at the meeting was William D. Phillips, in every coffee break both me and my friend were looking for him to talk. Most of the time he was already talking to some students and we just stood there and listened to him. Sometimes, we as students feel like our questions are kind of stupid and not worth asking a Nobel Laureate but I was very impressed by his behavior that no matter what type of question we asked, he always had an answer and sometimes even a quite detailed one. We just needed to stand near him and felt like a river of knowledge is flowing. 

And this was not only with Prof. Phillips but I felt this with every Nobel Laureate. In general, every time I listened or talked to a Nobel Laureate it was a moment worth remembering. 

The Bavarian evening was an unforgettable night obviously, so many beautiful people wearing their cultural dresses. Countess Bettina gave me a Thumbs Up for my dress which I can’t forget. 

Although women do study science but not many of them get a PhD and pursue their carrier as a scientist. I think women should apply and attend these meetings if they get a chance and I would recommend all my friends and class fellows to apply for this meeting. I personally didn’t feel myself to be tooo important for science before attending this meeting. But at the meeting everyone was talking about the importance of Women in Science. I found the atmosphere so inspiring and encouraging there. 

Read more about Ayesha.


Lola Fariñas, 29, from Spain

Lola with a Nobel Prize Medal in Lindau

Lola with a Nobel Prize Medal in Lindau

In my daily life, I am mostly surrounded by people who work in industry, education, restoration, consulting, etc. Being a PhD student in my world is not very common. As years go by, and more people ask me THE QUESTION: “this weird thing you are doing your PhD in… what is it for?” I become more skeptic about my career and my future. Many times during these past years doing my PhD, I experienced this feeling of rarity and discouraging solitude. Having the chance to attend the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was the perfect medicine to fight against these thoughts. That’s why I really want to encourage you – young scientist – to apply for this event.

If you are lucky enough, you’ll have the chance to meet hundreds of people like you, who feel really passionate for what they do and look at your research with curiosity and empathy. Also, you will meet a bunch of inspiring people who won a Nobel Prize (You’ll even be able to drink some beers with them, like if they were your buddies!).

And all these things will happen during one week in a scenic city where you’ll be treated as someone kind of important. To sum it up, I can assure you that you will hardly have such an amazing opportunity like this again. Please, don’t let a little bit of paperwork stop you from enjoying it.

Read more about Lola.


Lena Funcke, 21, from Germany

#LiNo16 participates Lena Funcke (right) and Christiane Lorenz (left) at the harbor of Lindau

#LiNo16 participates Lena (right) and Christiane Lorenz (left) at the harbor of Lindau

Might quantum mechanics emerge from an underlying deterministic theory and what is the physics behind soap bubbles? Which challenges are presidents of universities or large science societies faced with? What motivates the greatest minds of contemporary physics to do research?

The six days I spent in Lindau gave me an exciting insight into fundamental issues like these and many more. The lectures in the morning and the discussion sessions in the afternoon dealt with various topics ranging from physics, politics, personal anecdotes, and science education to tips for becoming a good scientist. In addition, the meeting comprised several informal events such as an international get-together in Austria, a dinner organized for the fellows of the Max Planck Society, and a boat trip to the flower island Mainau. These events gave me a platform for inspiring personal discussions with the Laureates and other young scientists.

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting offers a unique possibility to informally meet some of the best researchers of our current science community. It gives you exceptional insights into specific scientific debates and into the complex development of scientific knowledge.

Apart from these general points, the meeting can also be very stimulating for your own research. For example, I was given the chance to present a poster about my own work and also approached several Nobel Laureates to discuss specific questions related to my research. The discussions with Laureates like Arthur McDonald, Brian Schmidt, and Gerardus ‘t Hooft and with other young scientists gave me new research ideas and even resulted in a new collaboration. Therefore, I strongly recommend everyone to apply for this meeting, whose guiding principle “Educate. Inspire. Connect.” hits the nail on the head!

Read more about Lena.


If thoses statements are not inspiring and convincing enough to make you apply for the next Lindau Meeting, just look at the last photo of this post with the beautiful harbor of Lindau, then grab a pen to fill out the application form!

See you in Lindau next year! :-)

Lindau Harbor

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 the participants in 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.


I’m not a chemist, but at the Lindau meeting that doesn’t matter

I love robots (who doesn’t?) and really enjoy the work roboticists do. All through graduate school, I had a roboticist as a housemate. We talked about how difficult it is for robots to things that we humans take for granted. Show a robot a picture of the street and it won’t be able to differentiate a car from the road. Building a robot hand that can lift a glass of water and then keep it down took many years of hard work by a bunch of expert roboticists. And yet, these little machines have been instrumental in making our modern lives possible.

Sabine Hauert

When I first came across Sabine Hauert on RoboHub, I was enthralled by her articles. She has a knack ofcommunicating beautifully the cool things that robots do and the difficulty of getting them to do. All this has got nothing to do with chemistry, so I was very pleasantly surprised to know that Sabine was attending this year’s Lindau meeting because the theme this year is chemistry. I was very curious why a roboticist would like to know about molecular workings of the world.

Sitting by the lake Bodensee, I got a chance to ask her to explain this to me. Turns out the behaviour of robots could be used to make cancer drugs.

Here is Sabine on her experience at the meeting so far:

Although the theme of this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting is chemistry, the talks transcend boundaries. They have featured quantum computing, personalized medicine, cell biology and even Tibetan art. The Laureates, who I imagined as super-specialists, are rooting for us young researchers to expand our horizons, work across disciplines to tackle challenges in climate change or medicine, and persevere against all odds. I’m not a chemist, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

As a swarm engineer, I take inspiration from insect colonies and bird flocks to explore new ways in which large numbers of simple agents can self-organize. I use computer tools like crowdsourcing and machine learning to discover strategies that lead to formation of swarms and apply them to real-world problems. During my PhD, I engineered swarms of flying robots for disaster scenarios. At Sangeeta Bhatia‘s Lab at MIT, I hope to make nanoparticles swarm to improve the treatment of cancer.

Through listening and mingling at talks and dinners in Lindau, I’ve learned that many parallels exist across disciplines and this untapped territory is making me tingle. I discovered Gerhard Ertl‘s spirals that emerge from reaction-diffusion systems, Dan Shechtman‘s diffraction patterns of quasi-crystals and Jean-Marie Lehn‘s use of self-organization to make complex matter. Molecular machinery presented by John Walker and Ada Yonath, including the ATP synthase and the ribosome, would make any roboticists shy away from their bulky motors.

Could these discoveries lead to innovation in robotics or bio-engineering? Can my work help design these self-organized systems? At dinners we brainstormed about machine learning and artificial neural networks to explore self-organization in the brain.

Many seeds were planted this week, cross-disciplinary ideas that will require time and frontier funding to grow. Instead of focusing on a specific topic, maybe next year’s Lindau meeting could be about “science and passion”? I have a feeling that Richard Ernst would approve.

Sabine Hauert is a Human Frontier Science Program cross-disciplinary fellow at MIT in the laboratory of Sangeeta Bhatia. Before working in bio-engineering, she completed a M.Sc. in Computer Science and a Ph.D. at EPFL in Switzerland where she worked on controlling swarms of flying robotsPassionate about science communication, Sabine co-founded a non-profit association best known for its blog Robohub and podcast.

A video about Sabine’s work with swarms of flying robots:

From a small city in India to the big world of science

Sarika Goel grew up in India in a small city called Meerut in the state of Uttar Pradesh. As a curious child she grew to love science and chose to study engineering. After completing undergraduate studies in chemical engineering in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, she joined to the University of California at Berekely to pursue a PhD.

Now with three other young researchers, Sarika will be video blogging her time at the Lindau meeting. In her career so far, Sarika has managed to overcome many challenges and has won many laurels in the process. So her chosen theme is apt: “Facing challenges and inspiring others in science”. Even with project deadlines looming on her head, Sarika took time to answer some questions about her life, science and video blogging.

Sarika Goel

Why did you become a scientist?

As a child, like the small city I come from, my dreams were also small. I never really thought about doing higher studies until the day my results for 12th standard came. I came at the top of my state among girls and that made me see bigger dreams.

I have always been very keen to know how things work and how we can make things work more efficiently. This curiousity won and became a major driving force for me to study engineering. During my engineering studies, while I was doing research work for my undergraduate thesis, I realised how awesome research is. And that love for research brought me to Berkeley on tweaking the properties of small molecules to make useful bigger molecules.

My PhD has been a great learning experience so far. The thing about research that I love the most is the freedom and opportunity I get to learn new things every day.

The theme for your videos is “Facing challenges and inspiring others in science”. What’s it all about?

Scientists not only share curiosity with their fellow researchers but also a responsibility toward future generations. In this video blog, I want to show how do Nobel Laureates and young researchers tackle challenges and obstacles? What did they learn on the way? What did they teach others? I want to know how we can inspire and encourage each other and the next generation of leading scientists.

How will you go about making videos on that theme? 

I believe that everyone can relate to the deepest influence on us. Thus, to get true inspiration we should be able to relate to the source of inspiration. I will be interviewing Nobel Laureates and young researchers and in their own words, we together will learn their individual key to success, the challenges they faced in their lives and research career and how did they overcome those and succeed.

What will make your video blogging expedition successful?

I’d like to bring out personal perspective of individual researchers. The challenges they face and the successes they have in the process. I believe those will have deep influences on the viewers my of video blog.

What do you hope to take away from the Lindau meeting?

I am very excited about meeting Nobel Laureates in person. I am looking forward to interacting with them and with other young researchers from all around the world. There will be many exciting discussions about science. I hope to learn about all the awesome research happening in the world, to make friends and bring memories that I will cherish all my life.

Heather Gray: chaotic starts and Higgs excitement

Heather Gray, a researcher working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN, was at this year’s Lindau meeting. I spoke to her over email before it started to find out about her expectations, and afterwards she told me about her impressions of the meeting and what it was like to watch the announcement from CERN with other young researchers. She also made a video diary of the Higgs exciement at Lindau that you can watch below.
What were your first impressions of the meeting when you arrived?
My arrival at the meeting was somewhat chaotic as my bag had been sent on the wrong flight by the airline and then when dashing out for some new clothes I dropped my wallet! However the staff at the Lindau meeting where wonderful so they quickly helped me to sort things out. This did mean that I was a little distracted during the initial stages and the opening ceremony. I enjoyed the formality and tradition clearly inherent in the opening ceremony and obtained a better understanding of the history of the Nobel meeting. Of course, it was exciting to see so many Nobel Laureates in one place at the same time, although this was something I got more accustomed to over the week. Finally, I found the number of young researchers quite surprising – there really were many, many young people all doing fascinating research in many different corners of the globe.
You mentioned in our last Q&A that you’re working on the Higgs boson. How busy were you in the weeks leading up to the meeting, and how did you feel on Wednesday when the results were announced? 
Oh, whenever we have data, we are always extremely busy working to understand it. I was very busy the week before I left because I was taking a shift as run manager: essentially looking after our experiment’s data-taking for a week, in the last few days that we collected data that was used for this result, so it was definitely a time in which we wanted things to go smoothly. I do work on the Higgs, but I don’t work on the two channels that ATLAS showed this time, so for me the busiest time is yet to come as we collect more data. However, in the last few days before the result went public the entire collaboration was involved in the process of understanding the results, approving it and converging on the message we wanted to present to the outside world.
At Lindau, the seminar in which the spokespeople of the two experiments presented the new results unfortunately clashed with some of the scheduled talks, so there wasn’t an opportunity to watch it together with the other participants. However, quite a group of us got together and watched in the tent on a few laptops, which I enjoyed a lot.  I found the seminar very exciting, even if I already knew what ATLAS was going to show, and I even found myself surprisingly emotional when the Director General said “I think we’ve got it!” We couldn’t stop ourselves from clapping as everyone had broad grins on their faces.
What’s next for the Higgs in general, and for your own research?
In this case, the two are really quite well aligned. What we want and need to do next re more careful measurements to determine whether this particle is the Higgs boson or something else. The decay channel that I work on directly is the decay to a pair of bottom quarks and we need data before the channel becomes sensitive. Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re waiting, but rather actively working on the analysis and optimising things so that we can obtain the best results possible.
In order to understand if it is the Higgs, we need to repeat the current measurements with more data and check nothing changes. Then we need to see if we observe this particle in all predicted decay channels and whether we see it decaying in different ways at the rate at which we expect. Here’s where the channel I work on fits in, as the bb channel is the only decay to quarks that we could expect to see, and if it’s the Higgs, it should really couple to all particles.  We’ll be taking data until the end of this year or early next year and we hope that this should give us enough data to obtain at least the first answer to this question.
You took part in a master class with David Gross – what was that like?
The master class was one of my favourite parts of the meeting. I couldn’t have asked for better timing to be giving a talk about the Higgs than the day after that seminar! I found the contributions from all participants were of a very high quality such that I found them fascinating. The discussion was excellent with many people attending the class participating. I also enjoyed the discussion I had with David Gross about how sure we experimentalists need to be about a result before making it public. 
What will you take away from the meeting?
I will take away some great experiences, great friends, new ideas and most of all the impressions I got of the Nobel Laureates, not just as great scientists, but also human beings.

Before the master class: Josh Dillon

The Lindau meetings have certain traditions – the polonaise comes to mind; the exclusivity (laureates and young researchers only!) of the afternoon discussion sessions; the boat ride. But now and again, Lindau tries something new. From 2010, I remember an “inverse panel”, with Nobel laureates interviewing a panel of young researchers instead of the other way around. That doesn’t appear to have caught on. This year, there are “master classes”. I’ll get to witness one of them on Thursday: the one organized by George Smoot on “Cosmology and Astrophysics: Gamma Ray Bursts and Galaxies”. I have no idea what to expect (although Kelly’s report from the Fert master class gives some clues – but then, each Nobel laureate probably has his own version of this event). So I met beforehand with Josh Dillon, who is one of the grad students participating in the class.

MP: I gather from the participant list that you’re a graduate student at MIT. What are you working on?

JD: I study cosmology in the group of Max Tegmark. We’re interested in mapping the early universe with what is known as 21 cm radiation. It’s emitted by neutral hydrogen, ordinary hydrogen atoms. It’s one of the only ways to
have access to the universe after the cosmic background radiation was released, but before galaxies started to form. That’s our long-range goal; a more intermediate goal is to see how the universe went from being neutral to being ionized, during what is called the epoch of re-ionization. That’s also what I’ll be talking about at the master class.

MP: How did you get to Lindau?

JD: My department chair sent me an e-mail asking if I was interested in attending this conference. He asked my advisor to write me a recommendation, and I applied. There were a number of different stages; it was fairly complicated: we had to apply to get nominated by the US, and then get accepted to the conference.

MP: So how did you get selected for the master class?

JD: After I was accepted, we got a whole bunch of e-mails from the organizers. One of them asked whether I was interested in taking part in a master class. I thought I might as well try, since I was only required to give a very short talk, and it seemed a good way to meet a Nobel laureate in my field. It wasn’t a long application: one page.

MP: So what is the master class? I have no idea!

JD: That’s a good question. It’s a bit vague. I’d never heard of any session called a master class in any context other than music. We were told it was to be a five to ten minute talk, so I don’t think I am expected to teach a class, which would have been a lot more challenging! I managed to have lunch with George Smoot and a bunch of other laureates today, and we talked a bit over lunch. I think he envisions this more as a way for people to talk about their research, but also for people who are interested in astrophysics more generally to get a broader sense of what is going on in fields that aren’t exactly their own.

MP: So what are your impressions of Lindau so far?

JD: It’s been a really cool conference. There are many opportunities to engage with other students. I’d never before met so many people who are at my age, and are doing astrophysics, outside my university. And it’s been neat to meet people from other countries. People are very friendly, and very willing to go out on a limb a little bit, introduce themselves and just make contact.

MP: Have you had much contact with the laureates so far?

JD: I sat at Brian Schmidt’s table at the International Get-Together. The discovery that Brian Schmidt and his colleagues made – Dark energy – is a great part of what inspired me to go into this field. We talked about a lot of things. Interestingly, a lot of the discussion was unrelated to physics. There were several Americans and several Germans at the table. We talked about international politics, and history; Schmidt talked about his winery and wine in general, as we drank some wine.

I had, in fact, gone to an earlier discussion session with him where he talked about some of his future projects. It was also interesting to learn that he had a hard time getting a job – this was right before he got involved in the project that eventually discovered Dark energy. He said at one point that he was three weeks away from leaving the field, and that he would either do something he was passionate about, or leave the field. I haven’t been in that position yet, but it certainly gives me pause. But he also pointed out that the unemployment rate for physicists is some absurdly low number!

Well, I still have a few more years before I really have to think about what to do next. But being here is great, because it reminds me of all the really cool stuff that’s going on and can go on in the future. I’m passionate about what I do, and I want to devote my life to study physics; being here is a useful – recharge of that passion!

MP: Many thanks for the interview, and I look forward to hearing your talk at the master class!