“A Truly Unique Experience” – Review of #LINO19 by Vanessa Graber

The Canadian delegation of young scientists at #LINO19 with Nobel Laureates Arthur McDonald and Donna Strickland. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

For one week every year, the small island of Lindau is home to one of the greatest scientific events you could possibly imagine. Situated on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Bavaria, Germany, the city hosts the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, aimed at bringing together Nobel Laureates and young scientists from all over the world to encourage scientific exchange between different cultures and generations. […]

The 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was dedicated to physics and took place in the first week of July this year. Among the many young scientists were thirteen participants from Canada, of which five others and I had been nominated by 2015 Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald. Financial support from the McDonald Institute, the Foundation for the Lindau Meetings and various partner organizations, allowed us to spend an incredible few days at this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Despite having grown up less than two hours from the island, I had not visited in almost two decades and forgotten how beautiful the city is with its old painted buildings, cobblestone roads, an iconic lighthouse in the old port and fantastic view of the Alps and Lake Constance – a beautiful scenery for a scientific meeting.

Day 1 – Sunday, 30 June

Like most of the participants, I arrived in Lindau by train. The journey provided many of us with the first chance of meeting some of the other attendees. If you were as lucky as Damian Goeldi, an experimental particle physicist originally from Switzerland and currently a postdoctoral researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, your very first encounter was with none other than 2017 Nobel Laureate Rainer Weiss, engaging you in a conversation about the role of large collaborations in modern scientific discoveries on your way to Lake Constance.

Following registration for the meeting, that we all unanimously agreed to be the best-organized one that we had ever attended (How often do you get a personalized agenda and a booklet with all the participants’ contact information and scientific interests?), the meeting kicked off with the opening ceremony in the Inselhalle, the main venue. In her first address, Countess Bettina Bernadotte, President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings that is responsible for the organisation, introduced us to the spirit of the meetings with their aim to “Educate. Inspire. Connect”; a motto that brought together 39 Nobel Laureates and 580 young scientists from 89 countries this year. The following opening speech by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for providing evidence for an accelerated expansion of the Universe, had many important take-home messages, including his urge to make science open and reproducible to give scientific progress as much momentum as possible and have everyone benefit from it. […]

Day 2 – Monday, 1 July

Every year the Lindau Meeting has a partner country, which was South Africa for the 2019 meeting. The programme started with a South Africa hosted partner breakfast, which included the first panel discussion on the topic of ‘Global Science in Reaching for the Stars’, in which the panellists discussed the critical role that science and specifically astronomy plays in South Africa. The country has become an increasingly important contributor to large international research efforts, manifest, for example, in the development of the Square Kilometre Array, a large-scale radio telescope project.

The breakfast was followed by the first lecture by Nobel Laureate Donna Strickland, who started her talk by wishing all Canadians a happy Canada Day; which was, of course, met with several cheers. Last year’s laureate in Physics not only gave us details about her contributions to the field of ultra-short laser physics but also her path as a researcher. It was great to see a (long overdue) female laureate give this first talk and learn that she was awarded the prize for the first paper, she published as a PhD student; something Strickland had never anticipated. […]

After lunch, young scientists had the opportunity to talk to the morning’s presenters in research-oriented discussion sessions called Open Exchange, which were an excellent opportunity to ask the laureates about their work as well as their wider understanding of academia and science. Canadian young scientist Tetiana Kozynets used the Open Exchange to ask Stefan Hell, the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, more about nano-scale imaging and the possibility of applying the technique in bubble chambers used for dark matter detection, her field of research. Tetiana said she was truly surprised that she became genuinely interested in a topic that, at first, seemed to have absolutely no connection to her research area and that talking to Hell about this informally was priceless; further highlighting one of the great advantages of the Lindau Meetings. […]

Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell during his Agora Talk at #LINO19. Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Day 3 – Tuesday, 2 July

Following a morning yoga session with a view of Lake Constance, the third day centred on particle physics and astrophysics. The morning included a lecture by Arthur McDonald, 2015 Nobel Laureate in Physics for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which not only focused on his past work but also gave a promising outlook on upcoming experiments that aim to detect dark matter directly. […]

After the morning lectures, the Canadian participants met for a special lunch with Donna Strickland and Arthur McDonald. We talked not only about their experiences and lives after winning the Nobel Prize but also the state of physics research in Canada, outreach initiatives at Canadian institutions and universities, and the value of networking. […]

The third day concluded with a dinner hosted by the academic partners of the meeting. Three of the six young scientists sponsored by the McDonald Institute, including Helena Koniar from Canada a fourth-year biophysics student from McMaster University in Hamilton, were also supported by the Bayer Science & Education Foundation. During the evening, they learned more about the company’s use of machine learning in improving, for example, pharmaceuticals. My partner dinner was hosted by the Wilhelm and Else Hereaus Foundation, a private German foundation established in 1963 that supports education and scientific research primarily focusing on physics, and it was great to share a table with one of the directors, Ursula Hereaus, and learn about the origins of the foundation and their vision.

Day 4 – Wednesday, 3 July

After a breakfast panel discussion addressing the applications as well as the recent hype around graphene, the morning programme started with a great lecture by Nobel Laureate Michael Kosterlitz. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016 for his work on condensed matter physics and told us how, as a slightly frustrated and ‘failed’ high-energy physicist (who was more interested in climbing mountains than physics), he was looking to work in a different research field. In his talk, Kosterlitz, who had found a new mentor in David Thouless encouraging him to study phase transitions from a new point of view, highlighted multiple times how lucky he was to have made this discovery, stressing that he was mainly at the right place at the right time; a very reassuring statement that we heard by several other speakers throughout the week. […]

After lunch, it was my turn to present my research during the afternoon’s poster session. I talked to many interested young scientists from very different fields and answered questions about my work on neutron stars and their connections to laboratory quantum condensates. The diverse scientific backgrounds of the participants are one of the great achievements of the Lindau Meeting, allowing one to see one’s research from a different viewpoint, something that does not happen very often in a classical conference environment. The interdisciplinarity of the meeting was also crucial for Canadian participant Tarnem Afify. With a huge passion for astrophysics and biophysics, two subjects that she rarely sees combined at the same meeting, Tarnem was very excited to meet other young scientists that share her interests, which she said sparked thousands of ideas in her mind. […]

Day 5 – Thursday, 4 July

The final day of the scientific programme began with lectures on ultra-cold physics and laser spectroscopy, including an engaging presentation by Wolfgang Ketterle, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001 for his work on ultra-cold gases. It continued with interesting talks on Scientific Blunders by Dan Shechtman the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry for the discovery of quasi-crystals, and a more detailed description of the newly defined SI system by Klaus von Klitzing, who won the 1985 Nobel Prize for discovering the quantised Hall effect. By showing us a video of an official visit to the international prototype kilogramme, introduced by Nobel Laureate Bill Phillips earlier in the meeting, von Klitzing made us all appreciate the neatness of the new SI definition, which was unanimously accepted by the General Conference on Weights and Measures earlier this year. […]

Thursday marked not only the final day of Laureate Lunches, organised events where ten young scientists could join a laureate for lunch in Lindau, but also the last Science Walks. Following the final lunch at the Inselhalle, I met several fellow participants for such a walk with Nobel Laureate Joseph Taylor. During the walk, a guide showed us around Lindau island and introduced us to many interesting facts about the city’s history. Meeting Taylor, the PhD advisor of Vicky Kaspi, whose group I am currently part of (and is thus what one could refer to as my ‘academic grandfather’), was a fascinating experience. I not only enjoyed talking about astrophysics, pulsars and fast radio bursts but also learning more about his personal story. Opportunities like this make the Lindau Meeting a genuinely unique experience. […]

Vanessa Garber was one of the poster prize winners at the Lindau Meeting 2019. Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Day 6 – Friday, 5 July

The final day of the Nobel Laureate Meeting started with us boarding the MS Sonnenkönigin for our boat trip to Mainau Island, the home of the Bernadotte family, and garden island hosting many tree varieties, a butterfly house and blooming flowers. The trip, which provided us with a stunning view of the Alps and Lake Constance, was sponsored by the State of Baden-Württemberg and we were welcomed by two human-sized mascots from the state’s crest. Part of the programme on board was the Poster Awards Ceremony; over the past five days, all young scientists and Nobel Laureates had the chance to look at the posters, talk to the presenters about their work and vote for their favourite poster. Having had the chance to present my work earlier in the week and answer many curious questions, I am especially grateful for all the interest, because I won one of the two first places for my poster.

Following the boat trip, we arrived at the beautiful Mainau Island. The first programme point was an conversation interview between Adam Smith and Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni journalist, politician, and human rights activist who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and gave a captivating speech on the ongoing quest for democracy in the Middle East. Her powerful call to oppose dictators and support the movement for freedom was met with standing ovations and applause.

Afterwards, the final panel discussion on “How Can Science Change the World for the Better?” provided a lot of food for thought. One point that was mentioned by Vinton Cerf, the 2004 Turing Award winner and one of the “fathers of the internet”, very early on in the discussion and kept coming back, is that science itself might not necessarily solve our societal problems, but critical scientific thinking will. All panellists agreed that it is our responsibility as scientists to share this knowledge and skill with others and actively contribute to changing the world for the better. […]

After using another hour to explore the island, we all met for the final farewell in the castle’s courtyard and were addressed by Countess Bernadotte, Donna Strickland on behalf of the Nobel Laureates and Fiona Panther who represented the young scientists. Panther closed her speech with the Maori saying “He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata” meaning “What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.”, choosing the perfect words to end an incredible week, really highlighting what makes the Lindau Meeting so special; a truly unique experience with intensive exchange of ideas and memorable personal encounters. Canadian attendee Connor Stone summarised what we were all thinking: “I wish I could go again, but also I want to tell everyone about it, so hopefully they can go next year!”

Additional note: #LINO19 young scientist Vanessa Graber, postdoctoral fellow at the McGill Space Institute, summarised her Lindau experience for the McDonald Institute. The full article is available online.

About Vanessa Graber

#LINO19 young scientist Vanessa Graber is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies neutron stars. Working at the interfaces of astronomy, astrophysics, and condensed matter physics, she is particularly passionate about interdisciplinary science that uses novel approaches to answer open scientific questions. Vanessa greatly enjoys teaching physics and mentoring young scientists to thrive in the academic environment. In addition, she is enthusiastic about communicating science and engaging the general public to show that science can be fun and relatable.

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