Published 18 June 2010 by Akshat Rathi

How the Lindau meeting contributes to the celebration of science

Discoveries in science are rarely celebrated on the scale that great art is or major sporting achievements are.

Has Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 received the same amount of attention that the Mona Lisa on display in the Louvre in Paris has? Probably not. And yet, it has contributed a lot more to society. Some may argue that the attraction to science is not enough because it is harder to explain a scientific concept than to appreciate art. I disagree; there are many ways in which science can be made as accessible as art but more on that in another post. The applications that emerge from great science affect the lives of billions irrespective of their knowledge about it.

In 1895, when Alfred Nobel signed his will and created a prize for ‘those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind’, he made an occasion to celebrate the men and women who have had a great impact on humanity. That occasion soon became the greatest honour that could be bestowed upon a scientist. Every year when the Nobel Prize winners are announced, seemingly normal people, no doubt of extraordinary academic calibre, are suddenly catapulted into the public sphere. They become famous public figures who are celebrated globally. They become the rock stars of science. They gain the influence that they long deserved because of the hard work they have put into the service of humanity. But is that enough?



The Nobel Medal by Surabhi Rathi

It is that time of the year when Johannesburg, host to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, has become the global capital. The whole world enjoys sporting spectacles like the football world cup or the Olympics because it glorifies human achievement. The team that wins the world cup epitomises athletic ability, endurance and team work that go into making champions. I believe that a Nobel Prize winner’s achievements are as glorious if not more. What goes into the making of these laureates are the same things that make world champions, just replace athleticism with mental agility. Scientists endure a lot of failure and put in many decades of undiluted effort towards solving the biggest problems of science. 

It’s also not sheer genius at work. Science has passed the age when problems could be solved by individuals spending years experimenting and contemplating alone. One also needs the ability to build and lead a good team effectively. A Nobel Prize is recognition of an enormous human feat yet this feat needs greater celebration than just the prize. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, now in its 60th year, is a great attempt to fill that gap. It is a chance for young researchers to not just meet but also interact with the pioneers in their respective fields.

Imagine as a sports enthusiast interacting with Roger Federer, Sachin Tendulkar, Diego Maradonna, Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods, Viswanathan Anand, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, and Muhammad Ali all under one roof: the top achievers of all major sports together. I think that is what the 60th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is going to feel like to me as a young researcher. There will be not one or two, not ten or twenty but 61 Nobel laureates from all major areas of science in Lindau this year. What would you expect when you are told you have been invited to this convention of sportsmen? Hard to put it in words, isn’t it? That is my problem too. I cannot explain the thrill and the excitement with which I wait for this meeting to begin.

Akshat Rathi

Akshat Rathi

Akshat Rathi is a reporter for Quartz ( in London. He has previously worked at The Economist and The Conversation. His writing has appeared in Nature, The Guardian and The Hindu. He has a PhD in chemistry from Oxford University and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.