Published 20 June 2013 by Simon Engelke

What to learn from Nobel Laureates

Being able to meet 35 Nobel laureates is a rare and highly desirable opportunity. A question that arises when preparing to meet people of such stature is: What can we learn from them?

It was my good fortune that I already had the chance to meet one of the laureates – Paul Crutzen (Nobel Prize Chemistry, 1995) in January 2013. He received an honorary doctorate from Maastricht University and I attended a lecture he was giving the same day.

Paul Crutzen
Foto: Creative Commons – Teemu Rajala

The prospect of Paul Crutzen visiting Maastricht University was very thrilling. I immediately started to read his publications and was overwhelmed by his achievements (among others, to show the significance of nitrogen oxide and the ozone hole) as well as his exciting biography.

After being trained as a civil engineering, he truly was seeking to become a scientist. He got a position at the University of Stockholm as a programmer (without knowing first what a programmer was) where he entered the world of academia. Next to his work he took courses for a MSc and finished a PhD in meteorology and made his first discoveries towards the relevance of nitrogen oxide. He stayed in the UK and the USA and finally became  a director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Division, Max-Planck-Institute in Mainz, Germany. Being convinced that one has the responsibility to explain significant results to politicians and the general public, among others, he was member of an Enquete commission of the Federal government dealing with the influence of mankind on climate. On the basis of his background and accomplishments, I got the strong impression that he took opportunities and made the most out of them.

So at this day in January I eagerly waited for him to start his lecture. He focused his talk on his academic path and the discoveries he made. He strongly emphasized the need to preserve our planet and one can thank him for his contributions on his discoveries about the ozone layer. After the lecture he took questions from the audience and I asked him on his thoughts on new technologies like energy storage. He told us about his passion on engineering and that in another life he might would have chosen that path.

Afterwards I took the initiative and approached Crutzen. We spent a couple of minutes talking about his path, and he was so kind as to also talk with me about my work in energy storage. During this talk he also mentioned the upcoming Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. I could truly feel his passion for this meeting. My first meeting with a Nobel Laureate impressed upon me how down to earth and approachable Paul Crutzen was. In Lindau he will again talk about ‘Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate in the Anthropocene’ his main topic.

Now, I am very much looking forward to the upcoming meeting. I hope to get the chance to speak to many more Nobel Laureates to obtain more insights on these remarkable achievers and discuss my findings with the global community.

Find more information on Paul Crutzen in the Lindau Mediatheque and in “Paul Crutzen on the Ozone Hole, Nitrogen Oxides, and the Nobel Prize“.

Simon Engelke

Simon Engelke, Lindau Alumnus 2013, is a natural scientist who studied at Maastricht University and UC Berkeley. He just finished a project supported by Google and will start a PhD at the University of Cambridge in fall. Next to his research interests, he has a passion for communication.