Science’s Broader Scope: The Diplomatic Ground

At the 2018 Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Toulouse, France, different topics from the fields of science communication and science policy were discussed. Some conference talks were dedicated especially to the field of science diplomacy. One frequently discussed and central question was: “Is it possible that extracurricular activities efforts outside of the laboratory might have special value?” This is how Nobel Laureate Peter Agre formulates the crux in an interview from 2013.

Science diplomacy worldwide, © Melania Zauri

Nowadays, more than ever, the idea of a scientist as a ‘lab rat’ is outdated. A variety of different initiatives that support the involvement and perception of scientists in public are stronger than ever before. Over the past few years, numerous citizen science initiatives have been established and the number of public and private agencies asking scientists to be involved in society has been noticeably increased. Last but not least, various parliaments in Europe have been recognizing the need of scientific evidence to prepare and take political decisions (Austria and Spain among the latest). On the same side the involvement of science into diplomatic grounds has been so far less advertised.

The term ‘science diplomacy’ comes handy to define situations when science meets diplomacy and vice versa or when science helps solving policy issues. Successful application of science diplomacy can be seen in the establishment of institutes like CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), one of the world’s largest and most respected centers for scientific research, and EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory), Europe’s leader laboratory for molecular biology. Both research centers are supported by many European states which agreed to fund infrastructures to make scientific research possible through international collaborations. Another example of science diplomacy on the ground is represented by the multilateral Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer which was created by the framework and regulatory measures of the Vienna Convention in 1987. The Montreal Protocol not only specifies the substances that are responsible for depletion of the ozone layer but also establishes a set of steps to stop consumption and production of HCFCs (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons). The conclusion of this international treaty was a good example of how scientific evidence can be successfully used to reach a policy agreement.

During the ‘Innovation Forum’ at #LINO18 top-level scientists and business executives debated on current problems and solutions for tomorrow. Here: Peter Agre (left) in discussion with other forum participants. © Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

What seems basic and essential to a scientist, such as travelling or cooperating with international colleagues to reach a common goal, might feel less compelling in other fields. This is where science can be helpful for diplomatic grounds. Given examples of this commitment can be seen from the Nobel Laureates effort to meet young scientists at Lindau. Especially, when the interdisciplinary meeting gives the opportunity for laureates to meet among themselves and with young scientists coming from entirely different fields of research. This collaborative exchange might feel a lot like the diplomatic grounds of Lindau! Besides that, a recent notable example of the involvement of a Nobel Laureate into diplomatic grounds was highlightes by Peter Agre during a speech at the 67th Lindau Meeting. He talked about his commitment to develop institutes devoted to contrast the diffusion of malaria in Africa (Zambia and Zimbabwe) after his discovery of the role that aquaporins play in the parasite life. Agre himself admits to have been largely inspired by Linus Pauling whom he describes like a rare individual, that achieved unparalleled success as an innovative researcher, extremely popular lecturer as well as an humanitarian and peace activist. Pauling is still the only person in history to receive two undivided Nobel Prizes, for Chemistry in 1954 and for Peace in 1962 for his involvement in the ban of nuclear weapons testing.

Another good example of science diplomacy led by Nobel Laureates, was given by Abdus Salam, laureate in Physics in 1979, who led the efforts for the foundation of what was initially called the ‘Third World Academy of Sciences’, TWAS. It is located in Trieste, Italy, and since 2004 it is known as ‘The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries. The foundation was established in the belief that low- and middle-income countries could build the knowledge and skills that are necessary to address challenges such as hunger, disease and poverty by building strengths in science and engineering. Definitively all these examples and many more, show that exceptionally good scientists can be indeed actively contributing to diplomatic grounds.

With old global challenges worsening and new ones arising, science diplomacy can lay the base to solve today’s urgent problems such as environmental and technological challenges, climate change, the rise of artificial intelligence or the warranted access to medicines. On the other hand, the mistrust in political institutions and corporations is arising. As Nobel Laureate Peter Agre already mentioned, people vastly prefers scientists over politicians for resolving disputes, and that is undoubtedly an advantage that science diplomacy can exploit. The international network of scientists therefore must be treasured as it represents a unique opportunity to the advantage of research, scientific discoveries and to the resolution of common issues among nations.

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience

View of Lindau Island from the zeppelin. Photo/Credit: Laura Schönhardt/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

There is a distinct lack of conversation about the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in South Africa – the first that I heard of this opportunity was when I was asked by my supervisor if he could nominate me to attend the 67th Lindau Meeting. The selection process is very rigorous, and it was 4 months after submitting my application that I received an email informing me that I had been selected to attend. I was extremely excited to receive this email, to the point that I immediately rushed to my supervisor’s office to tell him the news. A travel grant was provided by ASSAf, and as the selected delegates were from different universities and research organisations throughout South Africa, ASSAf organised a pre-meeting team-building gathering, during which we met the other delegates. Several Lindau alumni were also invited to this gathering, to share their experiences and give us advice on how we should approach the meeting. This advice varied from the sensible, ‘Meet as many people as you can’, to the less sensible, ‘Don’t sleep at all’. For my stay, I was hosted by Lindau residents, and my host family proved to be exceptional. They went so far as to organise transport for me from Munich to Lindau, and to make sure that I got onto the correct train at the end of my stay. We had many discussions, which varied from the nuances of our cultural differences, to discussions about topics raised at the meeting, to sports, politics, and everything in between. The experience of being hosted by locals added substantially to the entire ‘Lindau experience’.

During the meeting, numerous programme additions were organised, to which only a small group of researchers was invited. These additions were sponsored by research organisations or multinational corporations. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend two such events. The first event was the Summer Festival of Science, which was hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. During this event, I found myself conversing with CEOs and vice-presidents from large multinational companies such as the Linde Group, Cabot Corporation and Lockheed Martin. Another opportunity was a flight in a zeppelin, as a part of an introduction to the ‘Clockwork Ocean’ expedition being undertaken by the ‘Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht’ of the Helmholtz Association. We were introduced to the methodology and equipment used to study the behaviour and impact of water eddies in the seas and oceans. Thereafter, we were taken on a 45-minute flight in the zeppelin for a magical view of Lindau and the Bodensee from the sky. We were joined for this flight by two Nobel Laureates, who were just as enthralled as we were by the views that unfolded.


On board of the zeppelin, expedition director Burkard Baschek from Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht explains the research of ‘Clockwork Ocean’ to Mark Williams-Wynn, Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman and others. Photo/Credit: Roland Koch/Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft


The days of the conference flew past at a breath-taking pace, although not without presenting each of us with many opportunities to network and to learn from both the Nobel Laureates and the other researchers present. The advice from the alumni to not sleep made much more sense at this point. There were simply so many interesting people to meet and to discuss science with, that we all ended up sleeping far less than usual. For me, the lectures that most stood out were those in which the Nobel Laureates chose to share their personal experiences as researchers. These were lectures by Peter Agre, Dan Shechtman (2011 Chemistry Nobel Laureate) and Martin Chalfie (2008 Chemistry Nobel Laureate). After the lectures, each Nobel Laureate held a discussion session with the young researchers. I found Shechtman’s discussion session particularly pertinent to me, as we discussed science entrepreneurship and education. There was a strong emphasis on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at this year’s meeting, and as such, many of the young scientists involved in discussion panels and sessions were women. In stark contrast, only one of the 29 Nobel Laureates present was a woman (Ada Yonath, 2009 Chemistry Nobel Laureate).

On the final day of the meeting, we were treated to a boat ride to the garden island of Mainau, where we spent the day. Two occurrences during the events held on the island further highlighted women in STEM. During the closing panel discussion on ‘Ethics in Science’, a young researcher from the University of Cambridge, Dr Karen Stroobants, was, by far, the stand-out panel member, eclipsing the otherwise male-dominated panel. Secondly, Dr Hlamulo Makelane, from South Africa, gave heartfelt and emotive closing remarks for the Lindau Meeting on behalf of the young researchers, doing South Africa and women in STEM proud. Everything considered, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I would recommend to anyone who is eligible to attend. Were it not for the fact that young scientists are only afforded the opportunity to attend once, I would have applied immediately for the next meeting.


This article is an excerpt from “Young South African researchers attend the 2017 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting” by Nolwazi Nombona, Mark Williams-Wynn and Paul Kennedy, which was originally published in the South African Journal of Science.

#LiNo17 Daily Recap – Thursday, 29 June

Thursday was the last day in Lindau but not the last day of the meeting. Friday is going to take the participants to Mainau Island, so while they are enjoying their last day on the picturesque island, let’s take a look at what happened yesterday. Here are our highlights from Thursday:


Video of the day:

All six panelists – Nobel Laureates Sir John E. Walker and Dan Shechtman, Wiltrud Treffenfeldt (Chief Technology Officer of Dow Europe GmbH), May Shana’a (Head of Research & Developmen of Beiersdorf AG) and young scientist Thomas L. Gianetti from ETH Zurich as well as chairwoman Alaina G. Levine – have strong opinions on “Science Careers” and gave excellent advise for #LiNo17 participants.

You are welcome to browse through our mediatheque for more panel discussions, lectures and other informative videos.


Picture of the day:

Nobel Laureate Peter Agre’s lecture on “Aquaporin Water Channels” was not only educational, but also made the young scientists laugh. Most definitely one of the best pictures of Thursday.

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Chemistry, 25.06.2017 - 30.06.2017, Lindau, Germany, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings Audience in Peter Agre's lecture

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.


Blog of the day:

When Nobel Laureates come to Lindau, photographer Volker Steger presents each with a surprise task. Find out what it is and how the laureates “sketch their science”.

Sketches of Science Slider

Do take a look at more of our inspring blog posts.


Tweets of the day:


Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LiNo17

We will keep you updated on the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting with our daily recaps. The idea behind it is to bring to you the day’s highlights in a blink of an eye. The daily recaps will feature blog posts, photos and videos from the mediatheque.


Wissenschaftliche Zusammenarbeit als Motor für den Frieden

Picture: Ltd

Bild: Ltd

Kann Wissenschaft Brücken zwischen den Nationen der Welt bauen? Das zumindest ist die Hoffnung, die hinter dem Begriff Science Diplomacy steht. Science Diplomacy meint von der Politik abgefragte wissenschaftliche Expertise ebenso wie diplomatische Bemühungen um internationale wissenschaftliche Zusammenarbeit. Aber auch wenn wissenschaftliche Kooperationen erst im zweiten Schritt zur Verbesserung der internationalen Beziehungen führen, ist das ein Erfolg im Sinne der Science Diplomacy.

Eine leidenschaftliche Befürworterin solch großer Kollaborationen ist Professorin Felicitas Pauss, Teilchenphysikerin an der ETH Zürich und vormals Head of International Relations am CERN. 2010 sagte sie im Interview:„Wir haben Mitarbeiter aus der ganzen Welt und ich kann meine Begeisterung dafür ausleben, dass die wissenschaftliche Sprache, die wissenschaftliche Zusammenarbeit über politische Grenzen hinausgeht.“

Bei einer Großforschungsanlage wie dem CERN, an dem allein beim CMS-Projekt rund 3000 Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler von 200 Instituten aus 40 Ländern beteiligt sind, kann man tatsächlich von einem multinationalen Austausch in zwei Richtungen sprechen, denn neben dem Personal vor Ort und den festen Mitgliedsstaaten gibt es sogenannte International Cooperation Agreements, und dadurch profitieren laut Prof. Pauss mehr als 10.000 Wissenschaftler/innen aus 70 Ländern, weil sie die wissenschaftlichen Anlagen für ihre Forschung nutzen können.

Dass die Gründung einer solchen Großforschungsanlage unzählige politische Verhandlungen und Bemühungen diplomatischer Art bedarf, versteht sich von selbst. „Von so vielen Nationen eine verbindliche langfristige finanzielle Zusage zu erhalten, ist eine große Herausforderung. Vom ersten Konzept bis zur Inbetriebnahme des Teilchenbeschleunigers LHC im Jahr 2008 dauerte es mehr als 20 Jahre“, so Prof. Pauss. Die Gründungsversammlung liegt sogar über 60 Jahre zurück: Sie fand 1954 statt.

Live-Schaltung zum CERN mit Generaldirektorin Fabiola Gianotti und Kollegen auf dem diesjährigen LNLM – es diskutierten auf dem Podium Steven Chu, David Gross, Takaaki Kajita und Carlo Rubbia zum Thema „Glimpses Beyond the Standard Model“, moderiert von Felicitas Pauss.

Nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg mussten die ehemals verfeindeten Nationen die abgebrochenen wissenschaftlichen Beziehungen wieder aufnehmen – und Deutschland seine komplette Isolierung von der weltweiten Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft überwinden. In den USA erreichte John F. Kennedy 1961 einen entsprechenden Kooperationsvertrag mit Japan.

In Deutschland hatten die beiden Lindauer Ärzte Dr. Franz Karl Hein und Prof. Gustav Parade 1951 die Idee, Nobelpreisträger aus den wissenschaftlichen Disziplinen Chemie, Physik und Medizin zusammen zu bringen und fanden in Graf Lennart Bernadotte einen idealen Förderer und Gastgeber. Über die Jahre wurde die Idee weiter ausgebaut: Die Einladung an die Nachwuchswissenschaftler/innen aus aller Welt, sich um eine Teilnahme zu bewerben, kam hinzu und trug wesentlich dazu bei den Wahlspruch der Tagungen „Educate, Inspire, Connect“ mit Leben zu erfüllen. Der Impetus der Meetings wurde letztes Jahr besonders deutlich spürbar, als während der Tagung eine Mehrheit der anwesenden Nobelpreisträger/innen die „Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change“ unterzeichnete.

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobelpreisträger Kailash Satyarthi, hier beim Unterzeichnen der “Mainau Declaration on Climate Change”, veröffentlichte jüngst einen Artikel, der sich gegen Nuklearwaffen ausspricht. Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Ebenfalls Anfang der fünfziger Jahre wurde der Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD) in Bonn wieder gegründet. Der DAAD ist mittlerweile eine der größten Förderorganisationen für den internationalen Austausch von Akademiker/innen weltweit. Er führt auch das sehr beliebte Erasmus-Programm der Europäischen Union durch. Diese akademische Völkerverständigung machte Deutschland wieder weltoffener und leistungsstärker und dasselbe gilt für seine Partnerorganisationen in der Welt.

In den USA ist Science Diplomacy ein gesetzter Begriff und wird als Aushängeschild einer modernen Politik genutzt. Unter Barack Obamas Führung erlangte der Begriff einige Popularität. Obamas Bemühungen zu Zeiten des aufkommenden arabischen Frühlings, die amerikanische Scientific Community und Wissenschaftler/innen aus überwiegend muslimischen Ländern über wissenschaftliche und technische Innovationen näher zusammen zu bringen, sind ein Beispiel dafür. Es schmerzt im Angesicht der heutigen politischen Situation auf solch hoffnungsvolle Erwartungen zurückzublicken. Auch Nobelpreisträger Peter Agre hatte in einem Artikel die Bemühungen der US-Regierung geschildert, aber im gleichen Atemzug gemahnt, dass die Anstrengungen noch weiter erhöht werden müssten.

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Agres Worte zu Science Diplomacy, wie er sie versteht, sind aber zeitlos:

„Science is a wide-ranging effort that naturally crosses borders, and so scientist-to-scientist collaboration can promote goodwill at the grass roots.“

Und es gibt jenseits des aktuellen politischen Geschehens ein unschlagbares Argument für Science Diplomacy – die komplexen globalen Probleme und Konflikte können nur mit einem globalen Ansatz gelöst werden, und für den ist die Wissenschaft prädestiniert. Kein medizinisches Forschungsteam hat als Ziel nur die Kranken im eigenen Land zu heilen, und was heißt schon ‚eigenes Land’, wenn man doch vielleicht in einem Team weitab des Herkunftslandes seinen Platz gefunden hat?

Positiv besetzt und immer für entsprechende Schlagzeilen gut ist die internationale Raumstation ISS, ein gemeinsames Projekt der US-amerikanischen NASA, der russischen Raumfahrtagentur Roskosmos, der europäischen Raumfahrtagentur ESA und der Raumfahrtagenturen Kanadas und Japans. Dass es sich trotzdem um dünnes diplomatisches Eis handelt, auf dem da agiert wird, zeigten die durch den Konflikt in der Ostukraine angeheizten Diskussionen über ein Ende des Betriebs der ISS, die aber vorerst beigelegt werden konnten. Außerdem war es nicht möglich China am Aufbau und Betrieb zu beteiligen – aufgrund eines Vetos der USA.
Ein Projekt, dessen bauliche Materialisierung aufgrund der politischen Verstrickungen jahrelang nicht in Gang kam, ist das Fusions-Großforschungsprojekt ITER in Frankreich. Erst ein interner Bericht, der nach außen gelangte, markierte den Wendepunkt. Hier sind die Bauherren die EU, Russland, die USA, China, Japan, Indien und Südkorea. Und natürlich waren es nationale Interessen im Sinne von Auftragsvergaben, die das Unternehmen an den Rande des Scheiterns brachten.

Die schwierige Balance zwischen nationalen Interessen und der Investition in eine friedliche Staatengemeinschaft zu halten, ist die große Herausforderung für alle Beteiligten. Angesichts der besorgniserregenden nationalistischen Strömungen und ebensolcher Regierungspolitik einiger Länder, stehen viele Errungenschaften, die wir schon als selbstverständlich empfanden, wieder auf dem Spiel.

A Driving Force Towards Peace: Scientific Cooperation

Picture: Ltd

Picture: Ltd

Can science build bridges between the nations of the world? This is, at least, the hope behind the idea of ‘science diplomacy’. Science diplomacy refers to both the scientific expertise required by politics and the diplomatic efforts to promote international scientific cooperation. Even if the improvements in international relations achieved through science diplomacy only arise at a secondary stage, this is considered a success on the part of science diplomacy.

Professor Felicitas Pauss, a particle physicist at the ETH Zurich and former Head of International Relations at CERN, is a passionate advocate of large-scale collaborative scientific ventures like CERN. In an interview held in 2010 she said: “We have colleagues from all over the world and this enables me to live out my passion for the fact that scientific language and scientific cooperation go beyond political borders.”

When it comes to a large research facility like CERN, whose CMS project alone involves around 3,000 scientists from 200 institutions in 40 countries, it is entirely accurate to speak of two-way multinational exchange. In addition to the staff working on-site and the permanent member states, the collaboration also involves International Cooperation Agreements and, according to Professor Pauss, these benefit over 10,000 scientists from 70 countries as they can avail of the scientific infrastructure for their research.

The establishment of such a large research facility clearly requires countless political negotiations and diplomatic efforts. “Obtaining a long-term and binding financial commitment from so many countries is a huge challenge. It took over 20 years to progress from the emergence of the initial concept to the start-up of the LHC particle accelerator in 2008,” says Prof Pauss. The ratification of the convention that officially established CERN took place over 60 years ago in 1954.

Live link to CERN with General Director Fabiola Gianotti and colleagues at this year’s LNLM – Steven Chu, David Gross, Takaaki Kajita and Carlo Rubbia participated in the panel discussion of Glimpses Beyond the Standard Model”, chaired by Felicitas Pauss.

After the Second World War, the former enemy states had to re-establish scientific relations which had been broken off due to the conflict – and Germany had to overcome its complete isolation from the global scientific community.

In the USA, John F. Kennedy established a corresponding cooperation agreement with Japan in 1961. In Germany, two doctors based in Lindau, Dr. Franz Karl Hein and Prof. Gustav Parade, had the idea of bringing Nobel laureates in the scientific disciplines of chemistry, physics and medicine together in 1951, and found an ideal sponsor and host for their project in Count Lennart Bernadotte. The idea was developed further over the years: the invitation to young scientists from all over the world to apply to participate in the Lindau Meetings was added to the mix and made a major contribution to fulfilling the motto of the event to “Educate, Inspire, Connect”. The impetus generated by the meetings was in evidence last year, in particular, when the majority of the Nobel laureates in attendance signed the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change.

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, here signing the Mainau Declaration on Climate Change, recently published an articel against nuclear weapons. Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD) was also re-established in the early 1950s in Bonn. The DAAD is now one of the biggest organisations for the promotion of the international exchange of academics in the world. It also implements the European Union’s very popular Erasmus Programme. This international understanding at academic level broadened Germany’s horizons and improved its scientific performance. The same applies to its partner organisations throughout the world.

Science diplomacy is an established concept in the USA and is used as the calling card for a modern policy approach. The concept became particularly popular under Barack Obama’s leadership. Obama’s efforts to bring the American scientific community and scientists from predominantly Muslim countries closer through scientific and technical innovations during the incipient Arab Spring are an example of this. Given the current political situation, it is painful to look back on the hopes and expectations that prevailed at the time. Nobel laureate Peter Agre gave an account of the efforts made by the US government in an article, while also warning that the efforts would have to be further intensified.

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Irrespective of the particular context in which it was expressed, Agre’s description of science diplomacy, as he understands it, is timeless:

“Science is a wide-ranging effort that naturally crosses borders, and so scientist-to-scientist collaboration can promote goodwill at the grass roots.”

And the argument for science diplomacy, irrespective of current political events, is irrefutable – complex global problems and conflicts can only be resolved through a global approach, and science is predestined to play a role in this process. No medical research team aims to heal only the sick within its own country. And what does ‘own country’ mean, anyway, when the scientists involved may well have found a place on a team located very far away from their countries of origin?

The International Space Station ISS , a joint project between the American space organisation NASA, the Russian space agency Roskosmos, the European Space Agency ESA, and the Canadian and Japanese space agencies is considered a positive venture and is always a good source of corresponding headlines. The fact that it nonetheless rests on thin diplomatic ice is demonstrated by the discussion about ending the operation of the ISS, which was fuelled by the conflict in eastern Ukraine but has been successfully defused for the time being. Moreover, it was not possible for China to participate in the development and operation of the station due to the USA’s veto.

The large fusion experiment ITER in France is an example of a project whose physical materialization was hindered for years due to political machinations. The turning point was achieved thanks to a leaked internal report. The clients involved in the construction of this project included the EU, Russia, the USA, China, Japan, India and South Korea. And, of course, it was national interests in relation to the awarding of contracts for the construction work that brought the venture to the brink of collapse.

The difficulty posed by balancing national interests and the investment in a peaceful community of states is the great challenge facing all participants. In view of the worrying nationalist movements and government policy in some countries today, many countries and many achievements which we already took for granted, are now under threat again.