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Posted on 19 January 2023 by Benjamin List

With Passion and Dedication – Benjamin List’s Personal Lindau Impressions

Benjamin List during his first lecture in Lindau

Benjamin List, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 2021, was greatly moved by his first participation in a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Here, he shares his thoughts and impressions from his week at Lake Constance. Thanks to his colleague Sarah-Lena Gombert for summerising Benjamin List’s report of his time in Lindau.

I will never forget my first visit to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in 2022. I had just come from a conference in San Diego, which I had already agreed to attend several years previously – back when I had no inkling of either the Nobel Prize or the Lindau Meeting. At first, the little town, so picturesquely situated on Lake Constance, somewhat passed me by, and I went straight to the hotel. However, the hotel is itself very picturesque, situated on the grounds of a park right on the shores of the lake.

At this point, I was still a bit nervous. After all, I was the “new guy” in the Nobel club. However, this nervousness subsequently vanished into thin air. I had already met a few of my colleagues, and on the very first evening the other Laureates welcomed me warmly into their midst. A barbecue evening and – just like that – I was part of the group. The atmosphere was relaxed and easy-going and would stay that way for the duration of the meeting.

In the Centre of Attention

Despite that relaxedness, the days in Lindau were also quite intense. I only met the hundreds of young scientists for the first time on the following morning, and I have to say that I have never experienced anything quite like it. Being a Nobel Laureate is a bit different than it used to be; you are really the centre of attention. But in Lindau I was virtually besieged – in a positive sense of course! I had to sign an unbelievable number of autographs and pose for photos, and I also partook in very intense discussions. As soon as I had finished my lecture, a crowd of young people formed around me.

Benjamin List talking to Young Scientists after his lecture in front of the Nobel Poster that explains Organocatalysis
Talking to Young Scientists after his lecture

This may sound exhausting, but it was in fact delightful: These were not just autograph hunters and selfie collectors, but smart, intelligent, fascinating scientists from all over the world. The sharing of ideas with these young people was incredibly inspiring and immensely fruitful and was for me the absolute highlight of the entire meeting. Many of the young chemists told me about their own work and we went into a lot of detail about certain projects. I also suggested to a few of them that they should try one of the catalysts from my research group.

The attendees of the meeting are so incredibly enthusiastic, but also determined. For example, we talked a lot about career strategy. My credo in this regard is simple: don’t follow a strategy but simply do what you do with passion and with dedication! Everything else will then come naturally. A certain degree of “safe thinking” prevails among many Young Scientists. My own experience was completely different; I threw everything I had into my own projects. Looking back, I have to say that this was associated with a certain degree of risk. To be honest, I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t had great results to show after a few years. What would I have done then?

Nevertheless, to this day, it doesn’t bother me all that much when I hold an opinion that runs counter to the majority. And I am also firmly convinced that if you want to discover something fundamentally new, you have to accept that you will feel quite alone at certain moments. You can’t have that “cozy campfire” feeling and be revolutionary at the same time. You have to choose. But the pull of the campfire is quite understandable for me. We are herd animals, like so many other mammals. However, that gets in the way of revolutionary ideas.

At the same time, I don’t want to pass judgement on the youth of today; it was certainly no different in the past than it is now. It has always been only at the tip of the spear where the absolutely revolutionary stuff happens. And who knows – maybe a future spearhead will have been in Lindau together with me in 2022.

Magical Atmosphere

But Lindau, I can now say, is so much more than that. For me, the meeting embodies a truly unique combination of beauty and intelligence. Beauty, because the island with the Alpine panorama on the horizon is simply enchanting, and also the people who come to the conference radiate a very special joy and inner beauty. This, combined with the intelligence and enthusiasm already mentioned, results in a very special atmosphere, exemplified in the boat trip to Mainau Island. Live music was played on the ship, and everyone immediately started dancing enthusiastically. That’s unusual at these kinds of events; chemists actually tend to stand around awkwardly in the corner. Not so in Lindau – and for me that is also an expression of this magical atmosphere.

Leaving motor vessel “Sonnenkönigin” in Bad Schachen after the boat trip from Mainau Island on the closing day of the meeting

While we live in challenging times of wars and climate change, participating in the Lindau Meeting made me feel optimistic. It was a fantastic experience, and Countess Bettina Bernadotte and her team deserve credit for the meeting being such a success. She puts her heart and soul into it. You could also say: she does what she does with passion and dedication.

Learn More About #LINO22

This text was originally written for our Annual Report 2022. We hope you enjoy browsing through the online version.

Recordings of Benjamin List

Benjamin List

Benjamin List received the Nobel Prize 2021 in Chemistry. Together with David W.C. MacMillan he was awarded "for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis." He works at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany. In 2022, he participated in his first Lindau Meeting #LINO22.