Like a chemotactic bacterium sensing its way towards a food source, I made my route to Lindau on Saturday. At Zurich station I met a Japanese post-doc who was also traveling from Cambridge and later in the journey we both met another researcher from New York, also heading to this year’s Nobel Laureates Meeting. While we swopped details on our science backgrounds and hopes for the meeting, the scenery got prettier and the anticipation grew.
Not just because of the multiple train connections that we had to make, nor that we were heading for a tiny island that most people outside of Germany haven’t heard of, but because we knew hundreds of others were also making this same trip, all with the same desire to meet some of their scientific heroes, this felt like a unique pilgrimmage. It’s a journey to the heart of science where over the coming week some of the essence of what it means to be a scientist will be shared around liberally.
This afternoon’s opening ceremony was as much about the young participants and preserving the future of these meetings while extending their reach, as it was about the Nobel Laureates themselves. Adam Smith opened with video footage of some of the young scientists filmed during last night’s boat trip on the lake, where each of them described their hopes for the meeting. Comments ranged from "this is the highlight of my scientific career to date" to a desire to find inspiration and encouragement, or a wish to make connections with their peers or to compare experiences between developed and developing countries. It is already apparent that many have come to this meeting thinking about how to address the big questions – quite a contrast to a normal scientific conference.
This meeting is not about papers, but about people.
Countess Bernadotte made references to the past, present and future of science in her Welcome Address – asking the audience to respectfully remember those unable to make this year’s event, as well as to consider the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in solving the potential problems the future holds. She was also keen to stress that "this meeting is not about papers, but about people".
40 000 young scientists applied to attend this year’s event and less than 700 were selected
We then heard details of the Nobel Foundation, which was set up a decade ago by 50 Laureates following the 50th Lindau Meeting. Until that time, the annual meetings between Laureates and students had been mostly focused on a German audience and it was only with the creation of the Foundation that it became possible to create bonds with many other countries, resulting in the 70 different nationalities present at this year’s meeting. Outreach is also becoming increasingly important, so that those who cannot attend the meetings in person, can follow what happens online – something that is put in perspective by the statistic that 40 000 young scientists applied to attend this year’s event and less that 700 were selected.
The positive atmosphere and desire to make connections this week extends beyond just the young scientists
Following the induction of new members to the Honorary Senate of the Lindau Foundation, the opening ceremony finished with a panel debate between two Nobel Laureates who have attended previous meetings and two alumni of the meetings. From Horst Grimme’s witty recollections of gate-crashing the meetings in the late 50s as a curious local high school student, awed by the ceremony of the annual event, to Bilge Demirkoz’s surprise at how many connections she made with other students that she has maintained, the potency of these meetings is becoming clearer. And the fact that England were then roundly beaten by Germany in the football and yet the German and English blogging teams spent a pleasant evening together over dinner shows that the postive atmosphere and desire to make connections this week extends beyond just the young scientists!