Published 4 July 2013 by Simon Engelke

Living in Lindau – Video blogger Núria Sancho Oltra

Soon we will reach the end of our stay in Lindau, where we experienced sunshine and thunderstorms. But the title is not referring to that. The case mentioned in this article deals with a participant, for who Lindau became home over the period of this meeting. But lets start in the beginning.

Núria Sancho Oltra

To spread out the spirit of Lindau (so that more than you and readers of your CV know about it), four videos are produced by participants and put online during this week. Already before the conference I got the opportunity to talk to one of the producers. Núria Sancho Oltraklein was just in the progress of leaving the USA for returning to Europe for her third year of a Marie-Curie-Fellowship. Today her video will be produced and thanks to an incredible fast team, tomorrow you are already able to watch it on this website. To overcome the waiting, find the interview below. It deals with her planned video, her (upcoming) path through four countries, her views on collaboration and interdisciplinary and in the end, after reading quite an interview, you get rewarded with an explanation for the title.

Why do you want to make a video with the title “Learning form the Laureates and what they learned from us”?

I found the idea of making a video about the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting very interesting because I think it is a very easy way to communicate to people, to transfer your ideas and impressions about what is going on there. Later I saw the topics which were proposed for the video blog and I have to say that I found them all interesting. I really did not mind which one to choose. After all you will be interacting with people and that is also one other thing. The video making lets you interact with with the others much more. You can really interview and get closer to them. This is a very exceptional meeting because of all the Nobel Laureates present. For sure we gonna to learn, all of us, a lot from them. But I found very interesting the point of that they will also learn from us, hopefully. In fact, we want to bring this video more into the general topic of transfer of knowledge because this meeting is going to be from undergraduate to Nobel Laureates. They are all together for a week so it is not just that we will talk to the Laureates, we also gonna talk between us and during our career, well I am a postdoc now, we learn much from scientists who are more experienced but I also had to transfer my knowledge to students who are starting. This is exactly what is going to happen in Lindau where we are all in different stages of our career and very accessible over the time of one week.

Do have a specific person you want to talk to?

I do not have a specific person because this topic is very general. Will talk more about scientific experiences. How to deal with the daily problems in the lab, how to keep enthusiastic and how to want to go on. I am open for everyone who is present, but also have the idea of interviewing undergraduates, graduates, postdocs and Nobel Laureates. Then see how depending on the position in their career they learn or they expect to learn different things from each other.

Are there any concrete parts of the agenda you want to cover in your video?

We plan to bring also up that the interactions and transfer of knowledge can happen at various places. Maybe in a more serious way if there is a lecture or one can also go to a bar and have a beer and have a beer with each other and share knowledge. One can drink a coffee or meet in the streets in Lindau and discuss science so I want to bring that up also. I think we will be restricted to the more serious learning from each other but we will see.

Why did you want to become a chemist?

I actually got very much inspired by my chemistry teacher in high school because he was like what we would call a crazy scientist who enjoy what they are doing and transfer this feeling to you. I remember thinking that chemistry looks difficult but this man seems very happy and is enjoying what he is doing. So I though like, ok, maybe I like. I already knew before that I would become a scientist in one way or another, because I liked science itself but then in high school I decided. If it becomes difficult you sometimes wonder if it was the right decision, but I think it was.

You moved a lot. You are from Spain, you did your PhD in the Netherlands, then you went to the USA and now you are going to Switzerland. What are the main reasons?

I like to see new places and meet different cultures and when you go travelling in a vacation you have a great time but it will not be the same as living there. I find it interesting to interact with the people from that country and live how they live, see how they behave and I was in total seven years in the Netherlands and were shortly in the UK and I have to admit the first time going abroad was very tough. I was thinking about if it is the right thing for me, the language barrier and all that. Then I gave it another try when I went to the Netherlands and it went very well. The beginning was tough, but after such a long time of seven years it was so sorry  to leave the country. I had a great time there. Here in the USA I have been for a shorter time but it has been very interesting and I keep liking it to go changing countries although  it is also very tiring when one has to start alone every time. I don’t what happens after Switzerland but I hopefully decide which country I want to stay, also depends of the possibilities of the job.In the end the blog will only about three minutes so we have to focus, although there are many other topics I would also love to cover like international backgrounds etc.

How come you are interested in so many research topics?

I started to study pure chemistry, then organic chemistry but then I changed a bit more to biomolecular chemistry and now I am changing to polymer chemistry. What happened was that my projects have been involving in different directions of chemistry. Lets say that I have learned a little bit of many different areas. I like to keep it like that and be open to even more. Because then you interact with scientists that have very different perspectives from a specific project so you learn a lot and the projects get much better through the input from different disciplines. I also like it a lot because then you can make a project in which you start from zero e.g. thing about how to make a material, then you make the material, study and apply it. I find that amazing. That makes a project very broad but if you are the one able to do all these steps, you have everything in the control of your way but you are interacting with people from many different fields. I don’t like to make a sample, give it to someone and get the results. If someone does it, that’s fine but I want to learn it next to that person. Many things go out of reach because something is in a completely different field and we assume we cannot learn it. But that is not true. I think if you are just willing to learn it, at least you will get the concept and will know a lot more about your project than if you just give your sample to someone and don’t actually investigate how it was done.

Is there one thing in science you want to contribute to?

I do not have the one goal I want to achieve but what I found in all my career is that I find chemistry really interesting, I enjoyed it alot. But at some point you wonder if what you do is applied for something. That is why I decided to do a postdoc into that direction of drug delivery, so lets see if we can cure something with what we are doing. And the field to do something for example in vivo status is completely new to me and I am not into it 100 percent but I think I want to bring my research into something applicable. Then you can see how from the moment I started learning that our reaction takes place to the moment we cure with it there are all these processes we go on and you feel that it was very useful. Of cause everything is useful. You learn a reaction and one day someone will use that reaction and it will be useful, but I like to see it by myself.

What do expect from this meeting for yourself?

I think there are so many things that you can get out of that meeting. Especially, with my background in a sense that I travelled a lot and like interacting with people from different countries. That is exceptional there. Then about science. They come from every field. Also fitting perfectly with my idea having a multidisciplinary background and interacting with people from completely different fields. And of course you have the laureates who are the most experienced ones in thin science and I would really love to hear from them how it feels when you get a Nobel Prize, it is not my goal, of course they will be asked that all the time. Also, I think the most difficult part in science is not science itself, but how to go through it. They have all the experiences of how to go through the difficult moments and then continue. Of course there are topics which are more or less difficult but actually if you dedicate your time you will go through it. Sometimes you are unlucky with the results and there will be years even and you have to stay very optimistic and that is very difficult. Of course if there are any projects similar to mine maybe there are any future collaborations. I don’t know if that is the case, but I would be really open for it.

What can the Nobel Laureates learn from us?

I don’t know what they could but I have noticed myself that when I get questions from scientists who are in their initial stages of their career, I was surprise how that can change my way of looking at science. Indirectly you are learning from them. Maybe at the moment you think like this question is asked in a really weird way and you don’t analyze what you are learning but in the end it is just making you think in a different way. I am sure the Nobel Laureates had many occasions in their career to do that but I am sure that there are still questions they might not expect. They might make them think in a different perspective they find interesting. They know a lot so it will be difficult to tease them really a lot but eventually there will be something they also get out of it, at least I hope so because then we also contribute to them. Many see them as the ultimate goal, you can look at it like that. But they are just human. We will be able to meet them there, talk one to one with them like you talk to a colleague. This is amazing!

Meeting her in Lindau, she shared with me that she had no time for moving in between between visiting her family in Spain going to Lindau. So she simply took all her things with her to Lindau. On Friday she will not take the boat back to Lindau, but will take another boat direction Switzerland and finally Lausanne. Actually, Lindau became her home over this week.

Today you can watch a short teaser, tomorrow the entire video.

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.