Published 21 July 2010 by Akshat Rathi

The 60th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in one blog post

Even before the meeting had begun the bloggers had started their job withreflections on the Nobel city. The theme of the meeting was:Educate.Inspire.Connect and by the end of this blog post I hope to be able to put it across decisively that the meeting achieved its goals.

Pre-meeting buzz

Although this topic did was not chosen as one for a panel discussion even though it deserved to, 2010 is the 100th year of one the landmark discoveries in the field of medicine that showed aconnection between infection and cancer. What followed since then have been numerous Nobel prizes for uncovering more truths about this fascinating relationship.

Another such landmark in the history of science of 2010 also being the 50th anniversary of the first successfully built laser and the work in thefield of lasers has gone on to receive five Nobel Prizes since. The future of lasers is bright and Nicolas Bloembergen discussed lasers on the very first day of the meeting. (Watch the video)

A theme that has not received much attention in the science world has been the power of tool-driven science. We, scientists, tend to give more credit to idea-driven science when it’s clearly not worth all the credit. Many such inventions in have been recognised by Nobel Prizes and you can read about it morehere.

Believe it or not but many of the physics lectures at Lindau are on astrophysics or cosmology and Alex Fry argues that this is indeedan exceptional time for astrophysics. The Lindau meetings might help young researchers in this field to decide the best areas to invest time and resources to be able to make the most contribution.

We’ve all heard of the famous book written by Rebecca Skloot called the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. What emerged from the science done of HeLa cells weretruly remarkable discoveries and have been aptly recognised by many Nobel Prizes.

More amongst such fascinating stories:pigeon waste played a mysterious role in the very important discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation and how on looking deeper at the history of the Lindau meetings one can seethe theme of sustainability manifests. All these stories did was to build up a great momentum for the meeting to start

And then the meeting began…

Students arrived byplanes and trains reading about great scientists andhoping to meet many more. The opening ceremony began with some interesting speeches anda very intriguing panel discussion about the meeting itself. The next dayseven students were armed with cameras to record their experience of the meeting and capture some video memories of their time at the meeting in the hope of rekindling them in the future again. Because the meeting is designed in such a manner that a young researcher gets only one opportunity it would be a valuable asset for all the researchers to be able to look back at these videos as they excel in their own fields in the future.

The highly anticipated lecturesworked their beauty by generating more thoughts on the questions that mankind faces; be itcancer orclimate change orstructural basis of life orsynthetic cells orevolution orinfections & diseases orthe size of subatomic particles. The inter-disciplinary theme of meeting was always on the forefront and there were many interesting panel discussions. The one onthe impact of chemistry and physics on the future of biomedicine led to many interesting thoughts including one where researchers questioned whetherthe future of biomedicine is in neuroscience. The one on what theLHC beholds for humanity generated more thoughts aboutthe history of the universe. With so many pioneers of science in the room, the young researchers had to be given a dose on how it isto be a scientist and how can onecreate chances, grab opportunities and plan ahead. The last one on thefuture of development of sustainable energy was held on the Isle of Mainau and involved many interesting questions from the audience.

But the meeting, as expected, proved to not just be about academic papers but also thelives of the people behind those papers. As thedays went bygreat images emerged, bloggers interviewed (Yonath, Rowland, Lehn, Barré-Sinoussi, Fischer, Gross, Markus) studentsinteracted anddanced (some with the laureates too), comicswere born, new bonds were created overbreakfast orthemanydinners, inspirationwas found, adviceswere exchanged, questionswere asked and somewere answered.

The scene on the concluding day of the meeting summed up the week full of events and learning. On our way back from the Isle of Mainau, the boat first stopped at the Bad Schachen hotel to drop the laureates off and in that 15 minutes almost all the young students lined up on hotel side of the boat and waved to their heroes. The laureates were moved by this gesture and many just stood there at the pier waving back. The dent that this meeting will make in the world of science is immeasurable. But what this meeting has already achieved in that one short week is something that very few meetings in the world can ever achieve; it has created more human connections amongst the greatest minds in the world today than had ever existed before. That is why the impact of this meeting will remain immeasurable.

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.