Published 28 June 2010 by Akshat Rathi

A history with future: the Lindau Meetings

After the opening speeches by many people associated with the Lindau meetings there was a small panel discussion on the meetings. The panel consisted of a Lindau alumnus of the 1959 meeting, Horst Grimme; a Lindau alumnus of 2008, Bilge Demirkoz; Winner of Physics Nobel 1973, Ivar Giaver and Winner of Chemistry Nobel 2004, Aaron Ciechanover.


Horst Grimmer, now an Emeritus professor of biology, attended the Lindau meeting as a resident of Lindau and reminisced those days: how the laureates all dressed so well and how it was impossible for him to avoid the temptation of gate-crashing these meetings even as a high school student. Later in the early 1960’s, Grimmer attended the meeting as a student of pharmacy and what followed at that meeting changed his life. On the recommendation of a Laureate, he took up research in photosynthesis and went on to become a professor of biology.
Bilge Demirkoz, attendee at the 2nd inter-disciplinary meeting, was rewarded beyond her expectations of the meeting. She came here wanting to get inspired by the Laureates, get a chance to learn about their science and may be talk to them personally. All that happened but what she remarks was her most unexpected reward was the connections she made with fellow researchers. As a physicist at CERN, she hardly sees other scientists and it was a great experience for her to meet biologists and chemists from all over the world. She still keeps in touch with many and is proud of the connections she made.
Ivor Giaver remembered how the meetings were attended only by German students till as recently as 10 years ago. He remarked on the difficulty of being selected as a researcher to come to the meetings now and said, “Congratulations! You have to be lucky be here. Nobel Prize winners do not admit that to win the prize they have to be lucky as well and hopefully you (students) haven’t used up (all) your luck (to come here).”
Aaron Ciechanover stressed not only on the importance of the inter-disciplinary role of the meeting but also on the opportunity to meet people from so many countries. He made it clear that Nobel laureates are simple people, “walk on two feet have two hands and two eyes, speak broken English like mine and push (their curiosity).” Discoveries that lead to Nobels are sometimes done by embarrassingly simple experiments and that fact should enable the researchers to believe in the power of their own science. He also urged the researchers to discuss the big problems facing humanity today.
This week is touted as the week when Lindau is the smartest town in the world and as Christof Bosch put it in the opening ceremony that Lindau is also the most intelligent response to the biggest issues facing the world today. The Lindau meetings, now in its 60th year, have provided a great platform to researchers to gain from the laureates and have, deservedly so, celebrated science. These meetings, with no doubt, have a great history of always having its eyes on the future.

Akshat Rathi

Akshat Rathi is a reporter for Quartz ( in London. He has previously worked at The Economist and The Conversation. His writing has appeared in Nature, The Guardian and The Hindu. He has a PhD in chemistry from Oxford University and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.