Nobel Laureate Steven Chu: To Keep the Fires Alive

Although it is called the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, when I attended the gathering for the first time last year, one of the biggest revelations of the week for me was discovering that it really isn’t about the Nobel Laureates.

Oh, certainly the Laureates are an attraction for the 420 young scientists from around the world, but the big surprise was that the laureates themselves attend the meeting because of the young scientists.  The Laureates return year after year because they care about our planet and our future, and they believe the next generation of scientists represent our best hope for creating a better world. 

Steven Chu is an American physicist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997, for developing methods to trap and cool atoms using lasers. More recently, he served as Secretary of Energy of the United States for four years under President Obama.

I spoke with Steven last summer and he told me that he has attended the meeting about a half dozen times already, since winning the Nobel Prize. 

In this short video I asked him why he keeps coming back and what message he has for the young scientists.


When the Stars Align, Your Career Will Shine: Science Careers Panel Preview

I’m back, baby. After two amazing years reporting at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, I gleefully signed up for my third. But there’s a twist. This year’s focus is on chemistry, and I’m a physics nerd. What’s a gal to do? I did what any sound-minded, giddy geek would do: Jump at the chance to jet to the foremost conference of Nobel Laureates, to become educated by, connect with, and be inspired by the chemistry community, which by no coincidence is also Lindau’s leitmotif. I look forward to an amazing week of lectures, master classes, conversations, and prime networking, with both established and emerging leaders in chemistry. Remember this meeting is being attended by up to 30 Nobels, and more than 400 young scientists from around the world. And, because this is Lindau, there will also be a few Nobles participating as well. Thank you Countess Bettina!


Alaina G. Levine with Nobel Laureate Klaus von Klitzing at #LiNo17. Photo/Credit: Courtesy Alaina G. Levine

Alaina G. Levine with Nobel Laureate Klaus von Klitzing at #LiNo16. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Alaina G. Levine

Like last year, I will be reporting from this true #NerdHeaven throughout the week, blogging, and of course, tweeting up a storm. Follow me @AlainaGLevine and via the hashtag #LiNo17. So stay tuned. Now of course because I am a comedian (and oh so clever), you can totally expect that I will be inundating you with tons of chemistry jokes. It is how we will bond. And if you play your cards right, I might just end up writing in formulae.

But speaking of the language of chemistry, there is nothing formulaic about Lindau. Even though there is a schedule (and it is packed!), there are always surprises to be had. Go around one corner and see Dr. Mario Molina, the Nobel Laureate who discovered the whole in the ozone layer. Take a stroll to the Grill and Chill, and hang with Dr. Bernard L. Feringa and listen as he highlights his talk on the joy of discovery. Or bump into Dr. Klaus von Klitzing, like I did last year on his birthday no less, and watch in amazement as he takes his Nobel Prize medal out of his jacket to show it to you. You might even get a chance to touch it! You can read my story, Lindau: The Day I Got the Nobel Prize, which shares that experience.

I am sure you have studied the agenda for Lindau with the same velocity and ferocity as you approached picking your PhD dissertation topic. So you probably noticed that on Thursday, 29 June at 15.00 hrs there will be a very special panel discussion on Science Careers. But did you notice who is on that panel? Did you see the chemistry celebrities that Lindau lined up to share their experiences? And did you also see that yours truly is moderating the panel? That’s right – I am so excited about this I even brought a suit for the affair.

Now the leaders who will be participating in this panel are Absolute Heroes (oh yes I did) of Chemistry, whose careers span the spectrum of ecosystems. These stars include:

Thomas L. Gianetti, Postdoctoral Associate in Chemistry and Applied Bioscience, ETH Zurich, Switzerland: Dr. Gianetti, an early career scientist, will share his insight and perspective as a young scientist attending Lindau and launching his career.

May Shana’a, Head of Research & Development, Beiersdorf AG, Germany: Dr. Shana’a has more than 26 years of expertise in the management of global R&D organizations of multinational companies. For 20 years she worked in skin care and cosmetics. Most recently she led the global R&D organisation of Ashland Specialty Ingredients (ASI), located in Bridgewater, USA. Before that the Lebanese-born Shana’a assumed international leadership positions in the research departments of Johnson & Johnson and at Unilever in the company locations in Italy, the U.S. and in the UK. She is among the world’s leading innovation experts in skin care. 

Dan Shechtman, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Technion – Israel: Dr. Shechtman, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing last year, is known as the father of entrepreneurship in Israel and has also made it his mission to educate and motivate young kids to go into STEM with his development of a kids science TV show.

Wiltrud Treffenfeldt, Chief Technology Officer Europe, Middle East, Africa & India, Dow Europe GmbH, Switzerland: Dr. Treffenfeldt serves as a Consultant to the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and is Global Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Dow. She serves as a Director for Bioprocess Development of The Dow Chemical Company, USA. She joined Dow Germany as Leader for Corporate Biotechnology R&D in Europe in 2001 and then Dr. Treffenfeldt has been R&D Director for Biopharma since 2004. The main focus of her responsibilities is the development and implementation of strategies in the areas of human and animal health at Dow and Dow AgroSciences with the goal of creating sustainable value within the biotechnology sector.

Sir John E. Walker, Emeritus Director, Medical Research Council, Mitochondrial Biology: Dr. Walker won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997, and as of 2015, he is Emeritus Director and Professor at the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit in Cambridge, and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.


Panel Discussion during the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Panel Discussion during the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


We plan to delve into many different elements of crafting successful careers in science, including how to handle challenges and failure, what skills are necessary to advance, and how can one stand out in the crowd. We will also have a very frank but organic discussion with the panelists in which they will describe their own jobs and career paths, and the lessons they have learned which have shaped their success. Be prepared to be amazed! You can easily see that this panel will be a fabulous enzyme which will truly catalyze your career! The advice they will give will be so “neat”, I can’t even.

So folks this is just a nanosample of what you can expect at this stellar meeting where the stars shine bright, the science is chill, and the networking is chem-tastic.

I can’t wait to see you in #NerdHeaven!

“My best advice: don’t listen to advice.”

Ada Yonath is an Israeli chemist – an x-ray crystallographer – who spent 20 years studying the ribosome.  Her persistence paid off, in 2000, when, working with other researchers, she successfully mapped the structure of the ribosome, an achievement for which she shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz.

The ribosome is a complex molecule, consisting of hundreds of thousands of atoms.  It’s actually a molecular machine (which is one of the key topics of this year’s chemistry-themed Lindau Meeting).

Residing in the cytoplasm outside the cell nucleus, the ribosome is a protein factory. It translates the coded message in DNA into individual amino acids and assembles them into proteins, which are involved in almost every function of living organisms.  

In mammals, there are millions of ribosomes in every cell!  Take a moment to absorb that.  Millions.  In each cell.  I have trouble wrapping my mind around that fact.  It indicates something about the scale of things.  As small as an individual cell is, it somehow contains – among other things(!) – millions of ribosomes, steadily producing proteins.  And, again, each ribosome is a complex network of hundreds of thousands of atoms.  Mapping its structure is essential to understanding how it functions.  And this understanding has provided great insight into the function – and design – of antibiotics, which can kill bacteria by interfering with protein synthesis.

I spoke with Ada at the 2016 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – and she is returning this year for her seventh time – because “being able to contribute to young people is one of the miracles that happened to me after I got the Prize.” 

Watch the video below to hear Ada’s advice for young scientists and non-scientists alike. 

“If you like playing board games then you like math”

If you like playing board games – if you like riddles – if you like jokes… then you like math

Dr. Gabriela Barreto Lemos


Gabriela Barreto Lemos Still Frame


Last year I was invited to speak at the opening ceremony of the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.  And, finding myself amongst so many scientists – 30 Nobel Laureates and 400 young physicists from 80 countries – I felt like a kid in a candy store.  So many different flavours of physics!  So many interesting people to talk to.

In a forthcoming blog post I will elaborate on how I came to be in Lindau, and how excited I am to be returning (at the end of this month!) – to interview Nobel Laureates and young scientists of this year’s chemistry-themed meeting.

Stay tuned for new live and recorded videos throughout the week of the meeting (25–30 June 2017), appearing on YouTube and Facebook, with additional updates on Twitter. If you aren’t already subscribed or following these accounts, please do!  I’m looking forward to sharing some of the voices that will be heard at this 67th Lindau Meeting.

And, in the meantime, I will be posting videos I’ve produced from last year’s meeting.

… which brings us to Dr. Gabriela Barreto Lemos, a Brazilian physicist, doing postdoctoral work at the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology. I spoke to Gabriela between sessions and I particularly like this first video in which she back-engineers how she came to love math and physics. It resonated with me. I have always felt the same way about certain subjects like history – that they require memorization of names and dates – whereas, math and physics problems can often be solved using only the information presented, as long as you understand the rules.  I used to think my high school physics exams were fun.  But I never felt that way about exams in other subjects.



In this second video, I asked Gabriela one of my favorite questions to ask scientists:  What is the question you most want the answer to?…



I’m looking forward to sharing more perspectives from both Laureates and attendees in the coming weeks!

Mittagessen mit Steven Chu

Doktorandin Susanne Birkhold nahm an der 66. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung teil. Lest hier, was sie am meisten beeindruckt hat:

In den fünf Tagen während der Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung ist die Altstadt von Lindau voller junger Wissenschaftler aus der ganzen Welt. Rund um die Uhr finden Veranstaltungen statt, um den Austausch zwischen Wissenschaftlern unterschiedlichster Kulturen, Disziplinen und Generationen zu fördern. Im Sommer 2016 war diese Tagung der Physik gewidmet und ich hatte die einmalige Gelegenheit, daran teilzunehmen.

Im Zuge meiner Doktorarbeit im Fachbereich Physik der Universität Konstanz untersuche ich alternative Halbleiter für die Anwendung in der Photovoltaik. Die Herstellung dieser Halbleiter aus flüssigen Lösungen bietet die Möglichkeit, Produktionskosten von Solarzellen deutlich zu reduzieren sowie neue Anwendungsbereiche zu erschließen, etwa durch flexible Solarmodule. Da ich mich während meiner Promotion täglich mit einem sehr speziellen Thema beschäftige, war die Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung eine spannende Gelegenheit mit den besten Wissenschaftlern verschiedenster Forschungsgebiete in Kontakt zu kommen und von den neusten Errungenschaften in der Physik aus erster Hand zu erfahren. Dabei standen spezielle Themen, wie die erst kürzlich gemessenen Gravitationswellen, das Potential von Quantencomputern sowie aktuelle Erkenntnisse über das Standardmodell der Elementarteilchen im Fokus. Hierüber wurde während einer Live-Übertragung von Wissenschaftlern, die am Teilchenbeschleuniger in CERN arbeiten, berichtet.

Das tägliche Programm startete mit Science Breakfasts, gefolgt von Vorträgen der einzelnen Nobelpreisträger, kleineren Workshops und Fragerunden sowie unterschiedlichen Abendveranstaltungen, um den kulturellen Austausch zu fördern. Neben vielen physikalischen Themen gab es auch interessante fachfremde Vorträge, wie zum Beispiel von Vinton Cerf über die „Erfindung“ des Internets oder von Roy Glauber, der als 18-Jähriger für das Manhattan-Projekt rekrutiert wurde und über seine Eindrücke während der Entwicklung der Atombombe berichtete.


Susanne Birkhold mit ACMTuring-Preisträger Vinton Cerf auf der 66. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung. Bild: Susanne Birkhold.

Susanne Birkhold mit ACM Turing-Preisträger Vinton Cerf auf der 66. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung. Bild: Susanne Birkhold.

Doch auch die Nachwuchswissenschaftler hatten die Chance, über ihre Forschung zu berichten. Im Rahmen meines Vortrags in der Master Class zum Thema Klimawandel konnte ich mich zum einen intensiv mit anderen vortragenden Wissenschaftlern über dringende Fragen des Klimawandels austauschen und zum anderen den Organisator der Master Class, Steven Chu, kennenlernen. Während eines Mittagessens mit Steven Chu, der 1997 seinen Nobelpreis für das Kühlen und Einfangen von Atomen mit Laserlicht erhielt und im Kabinett von US-Präsidenten Barack Obama das Amt des Energieministers bekleidete, unterhielten wir uns über die langfristigen Folgen des Klimawandels, die internationale Klimapolitik und die Frage, warum unsere Gesellschaft die Gefahren des Klimawandels nicht ernster nimmt. Die Einschätzungen und Meinungen von Steven Chu haben mich nachhaltig beeindruckt und mein Bewusstsein über die Folgen des Klimawandels gestärkt.


Susanne Birkhold traf auf der 66. Lindauer Tagung auch Nobelpreisträger Steven Chu. Bild: Susanne Birkhold.

Susanne Birkhold traf auf der 66. Lindauer Tagung auch Nobelpreisträger Steven Chu. Bild: Susanne Birkhold.

Diese persönlichen Begegnungen waren wohl die spannendsten Erfahrungen während meiner Teilnahme an der Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung. Durch den Austausch mit Wissenschaftlern aus allen Karrierestufen konnte ich viel über die Herausforderungen einer langfristigen Karriere in der Wissenschaft lernen und hilfreiche Ratschläge für erfolgreiche wissenschaftliche Arbeit erhalten. Dank der einmaligen Internationalität der Tagung traf ich Nachwuchswissenschaftler aus den unterschiedlichsten Ländern, von Kuba bis Südafrika, und erhielt interessante Einblicke in ihre jeweiligen Länder und Kulturen. All diese Erlebnisse und Begegnungen haben mich überaus bereichert und mich für meine Forschung motiviert. Zukünftigen Teilnehmern empfehle ich daher nicht schüchtern zu sein und jede Möglichkeit für spannende Unterhaltungen oder für die Teilnahme an Workshops und Events wahrzunehmen, um möglichst viele eindrucksvolle Erfahrungen während der Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung zu sammeln.


So erlebte Nachwuchswissenschaftler Oliver Kliebisch die 66. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung:

Als Doktorand im Fachbereich Physik der Universität Konstanz forsche ich auf dem Gebiet der Laserphysik und nichtlinearen Optik. Bei meinem Projekt entwickle und verwende ich ein Lasersystem, welches ultrakurze Laserimpulse mit Pulswiederholraten im Gigahertz-Bereich erzeugt. Mit diesen lassen sich die Eigenschaften von Festkörpern untersuchen, wobei ich mich mit speziell designten Halbleiter-Schichtsystemen beschäftige. Während meines Studiums habe ich bereits von den Nobelpreisträgertagungen erfahren und habe mich sehr gefreut, als meine Universität mich für die 66. Tagung vorgeschlagen hat und ich mich schließlich erfolgreich für die Teilnahme bewerben konnte.

Die Hauptveranstaltungen der 66. Lindauer Tagung fanden anders als in den Vorjahren im Stadttheater Lindau statt. Dort bekamen wir, die 400 „Young Scientists“, die besondere Gelegenheit rund 30 Nobelpreisträger verschiedener Disziplinen sowie den Turing-Preisträger Vinton Cerf zu treffen. In ihren Vorträgen stellten uns die Preisträger ihre nobelpreiswürdige Forschung vor, berichteten über aktuelle Fragestellungen und Erkenntnisse oder diskutierten diese in Podiumsdiskussionen. Darüber hinaus hatten wir die Gelegenheit, mit jeweils einem einzelnen Preisträger in kleinerer Runde zu sprechen. Aufgrund der Nähe zu meinem Forschungsthema habe ich mich besonders gefreut, mich direkt mit Theodor Hänsch austauschen zu können. Ein umfangreiches Rahmenprogramm rundete die Tagung ab. So besuchten wir unter anderem die Bregenzer Seebühne, erlebten den „Bayerischen Abend“ und ließen schließlich die Tagung bei einer Podiumsdiskussion zum Thema Wissenschaftsdidaktik und anschließendem Picknick auf der Blumeninsel Mainau ausklingen.

Mit anderen Teilnehmern, die zum Großteil ebenfalls Doktoranden oder PostDocs waren, tauschte ich mich auch über Zukunftspläne aus, insbesondere darüber, ob man auf seinem weiteren Weg in der akademischen Forschung verbleibt oder in die Industrie wechselt.

Besonders beeindruckt hat mich das Gespräch mit Roy Glauber, der uns von seinen Erlebnissen als Mitarbeiter am Manhattan-Projekt berichtete. Er erzählte von seinen persönlichen Begegnungen mit prägenden Wissenschaftlern des 20. Jahrhunderts wie Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli und Enrico Fermi. Solch ein persönlicher Einblick in die Wissenschaftsgeschichte und seine privaten Erlebnisse mit diesen bekannten Größen hat mich und viele andere junge Wissenschaftler äußerst fasziniert. Wer die Chance hat, an einer zukünftigen Nobelpreisträgertagung teilzunehmen, sollte gerade die Möglichkeiten nutzen, in den direkten Kontakt mit Preisträgern zu treten. Alle Preisträger waren sehr offen und haben bereitwillig viele spannende Erlebnisse aus ihren langjährigen Forschungserfahrungen mit uns geteilt.


Die Teilnahme von Susanne Birkhold und Oliver Kliebisch an der 66. Lindauer Tagung wurde von der Internationalen Bodensee-Hochschule (IBH) unterstützt.

#LiNo16: Ein enormer Motivationsschub für Neutrinoforscherin Zara Bagdasarian

Zara Bagdasarian   Picture/Credit: Gabriele Weiland

Zara Bagdasarian, Picture/Credit: Andrea Pesce

Interview mit Zara Bagdasarian, Postdoc am Institut für Kernphysik des Forschungszentrums Jülich, über die 66. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung

Einmal im Jahr treffen in Lindau am Bodensee Nobelpreisträger auf junge Wissenschaftler und Wissenschaftlerinnen und diskutieren mit ihnen über aktuelle Fragen der Forschung. Die 66. Tagung im Juni 2016 war der Physik gewidmet; zu den Teilnehmern und Teilnehmerinnen zählten ca. 30 Nobelpreisträger und 400 Nachwuchsforscher – Studierende, Doktoranden und Postdocs – aus insgesamt 80 Ländern. Hinzu kamen Ehrengäste aus Politik und Forschung, darunter Bundesforschungsministerin Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka und der österreichische Bundespräsident Dr. Heinz Fischer. Mit dabei war auch Dr. Zara Bagdasarian, eine junge Physikerin, die aus Georgien stammend am Jülicher Institut für Kernphysik, Bereich Experimentelle Hadronenphysik, als Postdoc tätig ist.


Sie haben sich erfolgreich für eine Teilnahme an der Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung 2016 beworben. Was haben Sie sich von der Tagung erhofft?

Zara Bagdasarian: Ich wusste, dass in Lindau auch die beiden Wissenschaftler sein würden, die 2015 den Nobelpreis für Physik erhalten haben, und zwar auf dem Gebiet, auf dem ich selbst auch forsche: der Neutrinophysik. Bei Neutrinos handelt es sich um Elementarteilchen, deren Existenz in den 1930er Jahren von Wolfgang Pauli zum ersten Mal postuliert wurde. 1956 ließen sie sich dann tatsächlich experimentell nachweisen. Allerdings wurde angenommen, sie seien masselos. Der Beweis von Neutrinooszillationen, die zeigen, dass Neutrinos einen Masse haben, gelang erst Ende der 1990er Jahre in zwei verschiedenen Experimenten jeweils dem Japaner Takaaki Kajita, Professor an der Universität Tokio, und dem Kanadier Arthur B. McDonald, Professor an der Queen’s University in Ontario. Die wollte ich gerne kennenlernen!


Ihr eigenes Forschungsprojekt liegt ebenfalls in diesem Bereich. Womit beschäftigen Sie sich genau?

Zara Bagdasarian: Meine Forschungsarbeit ist Teil des „Borexino-SOX“-Experiments – einer internationalen Kollaboration zur Erforschung von Neutrinos, an der Forscher aus Italien, den USA, Russland, Frankreich und Deutschland beteiligt sind. Durchgeführt werden die Experimente in Italien am Gran Sasso National Laboratory. Es geht darum, die Existenz einer bestimmten Art von Neutrinos, sogenannten sterilen Neutrinos, nachzuweisen.


Auf der Tagung in Lindau waren über 500 Teilnehmer und Teilnehmerinnen. Hatten Sie denn überhaupt die Gelegenheit, mit den beiden Neutrinophysikern zu sprechen?

Zara Bagdasarian: Ja, da hatte ich Glück! Neben Takaaki Kajita saß ich beim Dinner und konnte mich den ganzen Abend lang mit ihm und seiner Frau unterhalten. Diese Abendessen sind immer so organisiert, dass jeweils ein Nobelpreisträger mit zwölf Nachwuchswissenschaftlern an einem Tisch sitzt. Wir haben über den Alltag in der Forschung gesprochen. Er hat berichtet, dass er einerseits immer sehr viel Spaß an seiner Arbeit hatte, es aber gleichzeitig eine Herausforderung war, genügend Zeit für die Familie zu finden. Vielleicht liegt das auch am japanischen Arbeitsethos; sein normaler Arbeitstag dauert von 9 bis 20 Uhr. Die Frage nach der Vereinbarkeit von Beruf und Familie wurde übrigens im Laufe der Veranstaltung öfter angeschnitten. So hat ein amerikanischer Nobelpreisträger erzählt, wie er jeden Abend gegen 19.00 Uhr nach Hause kam, um mit seinen Kindern zu Abend zu essen, und oft danach ins Labor zurückfuhr. ‚Never forget the people in your life! Invest in family and friends: At the end of the day you need them more than anything else’ – so lässt sich die Essenz der verschiedenen Diskussionen zusammenfassen.


Zara Bagdasarian and Nobel Laureate Takaaki Kajita at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 27.06.2016, Lindau, Germany, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Zara Bagdasarian und Nobelpreisträger Takaaki Kajita während der 66. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung , 27.06.2016, Lindau, Deutschland, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


Und Arthur B. McDonald?

Zara Bagdasarian: Mit ihm habe ich unter anderem über Frauen in der Wissenschaft gesprochen. Er hat mich ermutigt, aktiv auf Mädchen zuzugehen und Vorträge in Schulen zu halten, um junge Frauen für die Naturwissenschaften zu gewinnen.


Rahmenbedingungen für Forscher und Forscherinnen waren ein Thema – welche weiteren Fragen wurden debattiert?

Zara Bagdasarian: Was immer wieder betont wurde, war die Bedeutung der Grundlagenforschung. Beispielsweise warten gegenwärtig alle auf die Anwendungen des Quantencomputers, aber ohne Grundlagenforschung ist der nicht zu haben. In der Vergangenheit ist es öfter vorgekommen, dass grundlegende Forschungsergebnisse erst Jahrzehnte später zu Innovationen geführt haben. Ein berühmtes Beispiel ist Einsteins Relativitätstheorie, die – 1905 veröffentlicht – heute für die Konstruktion von Navigationssystemen genutzt wird. Ein anderes Thema, das ebenfalls viel diskutiert wurde, waren aktuelle Forschungsfelder in der Physik. So waren sich alle einig, dass der nächste Nobelpreis für Physik auf dem Gebiet der Gravitationswellen verliehen wird.


Wie lautet Ihr persönliches Fazit der Veranstaltung?

Zara Bagdasarian: Für mich hat die Tagung einen enormen Motivationsschub gebracht. Ich möchte in der Forschung bleiben und hoffe, eines Tages eine eigene Arbeitsgruppe zu leiten. Gleichzeitig will ich aber auch eine Familie gründen. Mein Mann ist ebenfalls Physiker – wir haben uns in Jülich kennengelernt – und für uns ist es wichtig, Arbeit und Familie vereinbaren zu können.


Die Fragen stellte Kristin Mosch.

Exploring the Connections Between Sports and Science with Kurt Wüthrich

When reading the biography of Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich, it quickly becomes clear that he embodies the concept of a Renaissance man. Not only did he excel in academic work, winning the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his advancement of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, but Wüthrich was also an avid sportsman.

As a young man attending the University of Basel, he worked towards degrees in both chemistry and sports — the latter requiring about 25 hours per week of intense physical exercise, as well as courses in human anatomy and physiology. Even though he chose science in the end, sports continued to play an important role in Wüthrich’s life. He enjoyed skiing, fishing, and even played in a competitive soccer league well beyond the age of 50.

Kurt Wüthrich speaking at #LiNo16

Kurt Wüthrich speaking at #LiNo16. Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Given his interdisciplinary background, it came as no surprise that much of his master class at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting focused on the science of sports. In fact, two young scientists who gave talks at the master class — Dominique Gisin and Bettina Heim — have been blessed with a similar combination of both mental and physical talents as Wüthrich himself.

Dominique Gisin, currently a Bachelor’s student in physics at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, spoke about the mechanics of alpine skiing and its impact on the human body. Gisin started her degree at the University of Basel but interrupted coursework to concentrate on skiing, making her Alpine Ski World Cup debut in 2005. Four years later, she got her first World Cup victory in women’s downhill skiing, and at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, nabbed a gold medal in the same event.

To start off her talk, she played a series of video clips depicting the many crashes and falls she has suffered throughout her storied career, as the audience winced. In an average year, about 35% of all alpine athletes are injured — Gisin herself has gone through knee surgery a whopping nine times as a result of injuries.

In terms of physics, the variables that matter when it comes to modeling the dynamics of a downhill skier are numerous: the mass of the athlete, her velocity, the radius of a turn, snow temperature, air temperature, course condition, the mechanical characteristics of the equipment, visibility, and the mental/physical state of the athlete. These factors need to be considered when thinking about how to lower the rate of injury for the sport.

For instance, a tighter course setting would help reduce the athlete’s velocity, which could make crashes and falls less dangerous. But as Gisin notes, such a change would also cause skiers to move closer to the nets and potentially get tangled up in them. Another idea that might be interesting to pursue is uniform “anti-aerodynamic” racing suits that reduce athletes’ velocity and provide increased protection. Also, as seen in other sports, alpine skiing could benefit from the development of better protection equipment such as helmets and back protectors.

Kurt Wüthrich and Bettina Heim at the Rolex Science Breakfast

Kurt Wüthrich and Bettina Heim at the Rolex Science Breakfast. Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Also representing ETH Zürich at the master class was Bettina Heim, a Master’s candidate in physics with a background in competitive figure skating. Her achievements in the sport include competing at two World Junior Championships, two World Championships, and becoming Swiss national champion in 2011. Only a short time after, Heim decided to hang up her skates and study physics full-time.

Her Bachelor’s studies culminated in a paper published by the prestigious journal Science in 2015, titled “Quantum versus classical annealing of Ising spin glasses.” It shows that evidence of quantum speed-up may depend on how the problem is described, as well as how the optimization routine is implemented. Today, Heim continues her research in the field of quantum computing, mostly in the realm of adiabatic quantum computing and quantum error correction, at ETH Zürich’s Institute of Theoretical Physics.

However, her focus during Wüthrich’s master class remained firmly in the world of sport and not quantum computers — in particular, she discussed the physics behind her specialty of figure skating. For instance, an athlete must gain a lot of speed going into a spin, and then one side of the body has to stop so the other can pass. This translates velocity into rotation, which results in the many types of spin moves performed by figure skaters.

As in downhill skiing, injuries remain prevalent in figure skating despite not being a contact sport. Common injuries for skaters include stress fractures, acute injuries involving tendons or ligaments, and back injuries. Heim noted that back injuries often originate from jump impacts (which can be hard on the spinal discs) and extreme positions that require flexibility (tough on muscles and ligaments).

As Wüthrich’s fascinating master class reiterated, the connections between sports and science go way beyond the physics of motion. Sometimes, an athlete and a scientist can be found within the same person.

#LiNo16: A Retrospective

The 2016 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a  week full of knowledge, experiences, fun moments, and inspiring people.



Photo: Irene Alda

It was great to receive tips from David Gross (discovery of asymptotic freedom, 2004) on being creative: be interested in more things outside physics; and dealing with frustration: work always with more than one problem at a time. Although not surprising, did you know who his favorite Nobel Laureate is? It’s Albert Einstein. I loved that Kurt Würthrich (developed NMR, 2002) used to practice high jump (there is a picture on Nature 520, 2015) and that Bill Phillip’s (laser cooling, 1997) secret to happy life is a positive attitude and finding balance in the different phases of your life. His description of a good day: “a good day is when I learn something new”.  One of the most shocking things I learned at the meeting was that we burn 50-75 of ATP daily, pretty rad, right? On a day-to-day level, we learned that a great way to organize workload is Eisenhower’s urgent and important principle.


“Scientists are the grown ups that remain as curious about the world as when they were children” – Carl E. Wieman (first BEC, 2001).



Klaus von Klitzing during his lecture. Photo: Irene Alda

It was unique to see the more “human” side of such bright and inspiring scientists. Stefan W. Hell (developed super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, 2014) was motivated to break the diffraction limit and wanted to do something that would be useful for future generations; and Klaus von Klitzing’s (discovery of integer quantum Hall effect, 1985)  three things you need to get a Nobel prize are: to cross lake Constance, eat chocolate, and buy yourself a Nobel prize medal (which you could go touch if you asked him). And did you know that George F. Smoot (discovery of black body form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation, 2006) appeared on the TV series the Big Bang Theory?

We discussed how the metrics (h-index, etc) in Science are needed and dangerous. Oh, and not to get frustrated if you are initiating a field: it is hard to publish in high-impact journals.


“If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be called research” – Brian P. Schmidt (evidence of accelerated expansion of the Universe, 2011).


One of the big tasks for science is to improve teaching and education in physics. I’ve been fortunate to see different teaching methods and in Spain we need to address many issues. Some books recommendations by Carl E. Wieman are “How learning works” and “How people learn”. In the last the discussion of the meeting there were 4 conclusions about improving education in science: to motivate and pay teachers well (primary and secondary levels), to promote science via the media (government back up),  to inspire leaders to start the change, and to develop a good mentoring system so the student can study at home and go back to the professor with questions.


“Every scientist should have a secret garden” – Martin Karplus (development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems, 2013).


#LiNo16 last day took place on Mainau Island. Irene took the chance to visit the island's butterfly exhibit. Apparently, butterflies like science, too. Photo: Irene Alda

#LiNo16 last day took place on Mainau Island. Irene took the chance to visit the island’s butterfly exhibit. Apparently, butterflies like science, too. Photo: Irene Alda

The social aspect was amazing. I got to meet so many different and unique minds. It’s outstanding and beautiful to be surrounded by such diversity. The peak moment for the week for me was on the trip back from Mainau island when we all danced “The Macarena” (I think that dancing is one of the best ways to let go).

Attending to this meeting has been a continuous exposure to be “wowed”.

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

What is Coherent Light?

Since I started my PhD, 11 years ago, I have been collaborating with different laboratories all around the world with one objective in mind: creating a table-top, intense source of coherent X-rays. X ray sources are well known since its discovery by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895. We use them in medicine (radiography and CT scan), airport security, material science (the structure of DNA was discovered thanks to an X-ray image) and even to unveil the secrets of the universe: the Chandra X-ray observatory is a satellite that takes images of the X-rays emitted by supernovae, neutron stars and black holes.

If we know how to build intense X-ray sources and apply them, why do we continue funding research in the field? Let me answer this question in two sentences: All the previous examples make use of what is called incoherent X-rays. If we manage to create intense, coherent X-rays we will be able to make images of diminute objects, of the order of several nanometres like viruses or proteins (1 nanometre = 0,000 000 001 metre) and in times of the order of femtosecond or even attoseconds (1 femtosecond = 0,000 000 000 000 001 second; 1 attosecond = 0,000 000 000 000 000 001 second).

So, what does coherent mean? I will use an analogy that came to my mind reading René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo comic “Astérix chez les Belges” (Asterix in Belgium) [1] to explain this. As you probably know, the light and thus the X-rays can be thought to be composed by particles known as photons. We will represent each photon by characters of the comic.

The last battle of the comic between the Belgian and the Romans takes place at Waterloo. We can think of the Belgian as being incoherent photons. They run in a loosely defined direction (towards the Romans) so they steadily spread through the battlefield. Moreover, when running, each Belgian does not care of the rest when deciding its direction or speed.


Fig 1. Attila and his Huns posing as incoherent Belgian photons running towards the Romans. Picture photographed by Mc Causland

Fig 1. Attila and his Huns posing as incoherent Belgian photons running towards the Romans. Picture photographed by Mc Causland

Still, these Belgians can do a lot of things. For example, we can use them to detect where in the battlefield are the Roman legionaries. The technique is simple: We stay in the other side of the battlefield, so the Belgians are running towards us. When a Belgian finds a Roman legionary, he stops to give him a bash. If no Roman legionary is in his path, the Belgian continues running. Now, we only have to count where and how many Belgians arrived at the end of the battlefield. The places where no or fewer Belgians arrived are the places where Roman legionaries were in the battlefield. We just achieved a projection at the end of the battlefield of the position of Roman legionaries, just in the same way as a radiography is done. This method has two drawbacks. If a bunch of Belgians stop to bash some Roman legionaries and consequently do not arrive at the end of the battlefield, some Belgians can arrive at these points, since they do not run parallel to each other. Thus, we find some Belgians in a place where no one should have arrived. We will think that in that place there were less Roman legionaries than in reality and the image will be blurred. The second drawback is that we cannot use this method to detect small things. For example, if some Belgian find in their path a shallow pond or marsh, they will continue running in the same direction. We will detect the same pattern of Belgians at the end of the battlefield, whether the pond or the marsh is there or not. We cannot detect it.

On the other hand, Roman legions are a well trained army under the command of one of the best strategist the mankind has known: Julius Caesar. The roman legions move in an ordered way. The relative position, direction and speed of one Roman legionary is the same as the others, even at the further end of the army. Roman legionaries can be thought as being coherent photons.


Fig 2. Coherent Roman legionaries marching towards the Belgians. Photo:

Fig 2. Coherent Roman legionaries marching towards the Belgians. Photo:

When they find some Belgians, some Romans will stop to combat them, while the rest will continue marching  with different patterns so they can surround the Belgians, help other Roman legionaries or even take some military objectives in the battlefield. These patterns depend on the orders that Julius Caesar gave to the legionaries. We can think of the orders that each legionary received as the phase of the photon. If we place ourselves at the other end of the battlefield and count where and how many Roman legionaries arrived, we will find a complicated pattern that cannot be directly related to the position of Belgians and obstacles in the battlefield. But, if somehow we know the orders given by Julius Caesar, the phase of each photon, we can trace back all the movements of all the Roman legionaries, finding where in the battlefield were the Belgian and even small obstacles as marshes and ponds. We will have an image with much higher resolution and detail but at the cost that we have to somehow guess Julius Caesar’s orders. This can be done iteratively: we can guess some inital orders, trace back the movements of the legionaries and use the information we have (i.e. the Belgians and the obstacles must be inside the battlefield) to guess some new initial orders. If we do it correctly, we will have an image of the distribution of Belgians and obstacles in the battlefield.

Moreover, since Roman legionaries are perfectly ordered and move at a constant velocity, we can use them to measure distances (by counting the number of Roman legionaries from one point to another) and time intervals (roughly, by counting how many Roman legionaries pass through one point and dividing it by their velocity). Something similar but more complicated has been used recently to detect gravitational waves at the LIGO experiment [2]. Coherent (almost) light propagated through 4 km of vacuum chambers to interfere (i.e. to form the complex pattern induced by the phase of each photon) and measure distances 10,000 smaller than an atomic nucleus!

These two cases, totally incoherent and coherent photons are extreme cases. In the real world, light and Roman legionaries are partially coherent. When commanded by centurions instead of the great strategist Julius Caesar, the orders are not so clear and sometimes different groups of Roman legionaries follow different orders. Since each legionary in a group is following the same orders as the others in the same group, they are coherent between them, but not with other groups that follow different orders. Still, we can apply the same methods used in the case of coherent light to make images with  partially coherent light.


Fig 3. Partially coherent Roman legionaries, following different orders: while at the left of the image the Roman legionaires are tightly packed, the ones at the right seem to have orders of forming groups of two. Photo: Colvil

Fig 3. Partially coherent Roman legionaries, following different orders: while at the left of the image the Roman legionaires are tightly packed, the ones at the right seem to have orders of forming groups of two. Photo: Colvil

In conclusion, Julius Caesar military successess were possible thanks to a well organized army capable of following complex strategies. In the same way, we want to use coherent light because we can obtain better resolved images of small objects, as virus and proteins and measure short distances with an inconceivable precision.



[1] R. Goscinny, A. Uderzo Astérix chez les Belges