Published 12 July 2010 by Lou Woodley

Nobel Questions – Lindau answers. Some responses from the Young Scientists

One unique aspect of this year’s meeting is that we asked on for input also from those who were unable to attend in person, inviting them to submit questions to the Laureates via our online Q&A competition. Some of the most popular questions as voted by readers of the site are already answered by Nobel Laureates on the site. AND many will then be used in interviews with the Laureates which will be featured in a specially-commissioned Nature supplement in the autumn. 

Because the standard of questions submitted has been so high, we also posed some of them to the young scientists to see if their responses differ from those of the Laureates.

I spoke to four young scientists from the Middle East, who volunteered additional thoughts on the important issues for them in science.

The Young Scientists

Saud Bin Anooz is an Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung post-doctoral fellow, working in Berlin, Germany.

Omar Mahassneh is a research fellow in Chemistry at the Jordan Institute of Science and Technology in Jordan.

Murad Al Damen (who coincidentally) is also writing on Nature Network, is an assistant professor in Organic Chemistry at the University of Jordan, in Jordan. 

Reem Farag is a post-doctoral fellow in Chemistry at the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute in Egypt.

Q. What do you think the biggest story in science is right now?

MAD: Cancer and HIV treatments, methods. Science deals with people and so when it has applications like this, it will be important. So finding a complete anti-cancer agent with low toxicity for all of Africa, Asia and the developed countries will be really nice.

OM: I think atmosphere problems, which lead to other problems.

SBA: I think a lot of scientists now are worried about the environment, about how to improve the quality of water, especially after the current problems with the oil slick in the United States. Now a lot of people are expecting scientists to come up with the solutions to these problems. 

RF: It’s the environment.

Do you think that luck is important for getting good results in research?

MAD: Most of the Nobel Laureates get their awards due to luck. Yes, there’s hard work, but there’s also luck. The discovery of metallic polymers, for example, was luck, becasue the students erroneously mixed ten times more polymer with metals.

OM: I think luck plays a great role. 

RF: The raw materials must be available to solve the problems.

SBA: Can I ask a question? Now we’ve met some of the Laureates, for example we had an official photo with them yesterday. Most of them are 70, 80 years old.  Why are there no young researchers who get the Nobel prize? Is there a fixed quota for the age of the winner? Is there some condition to getting a Nobel Prize?

MAD: There are lots of prizes in science – it seems you have to get all the other ones first, before you can then get the Nobel. When you look at the CV of any of the Laureates, you see so many prizes before the Nobel. 

OM: Yeah, but for example some of them get prizes for new research, for example, for new points….

MAD: Luck discoveries!

How can we ensure that society can follow the technical progress that is coming about as a result of science?

MAD: I would like to talk about a comparison between where I studied and Jordan, where I am now. In Spain we have budget, we have machinery, we can do experiments easily. In Jordan we have to search for good collaborations. It can take 6 months to do a simple experiment, with luck and another 12 months to publish. We need agreement between politicians on science policy and society otherwise society itself will not use the facilities or develop technologies.

SBA: In some countries the problem is not finding a problem to study in science, it is finding a problem that you have the tools to solve. 

MAD: Yes, it is difficult for a scientist to be successful in Jordan. If we take a good scientist and put him in Jordan he will have a challenge to make the same progress as in the US or Europe. Obtaining budget, obtaining machines – it’s difficult.

How are you enjoyng the meeting so far? Have you met any Laureates yet?

SBA: We’re still waiting to meet the Laureates – that will happen now after the discussions and that’s more interesting. 

MAD: I have some comments. I saw three seminars and the three seminars presented methodology, specifically PCR and the amplification of DNA sequences. I know this because my colleague in the lab did a genetics PhD and so I’m familiar with this technique but another guy coming from somewhere else won’t understand. The lectures are not easy to follow for everybody. There needs to be some guide to the terminologies.

Have you met anyone new here? Did you all know each other before you arrived?

All: No, we met here. We’re not staying in the same hotel, but we all come from the Middle East.

If you still have a question for one of the Laureates, don’t forget to take part in the competition which runs until 9th July.

Lou Woodley