Here are some of the moments that really stood out for me at the 61st Meeting of the Nobel Laureates at Lindau. What were yours?
Sir Harold Kroto unbuttoning his salmon pink shirt on the stage at the Inselhalle elicited a collective gasp. There was a t-shirt with Darwin’s phylogenetic tree of life illustration underneath. Kroto is attempting to popularise this image because he is annoyed by the prevalence of the linear ape-to-man meme. ‘I got rid of all the bumper stickers on the way to Lindau,’ he said. You can read about Kroto’s lecture here, and watch the video below.
Oliver Smithies is the darling of Lindau. He said he is ‘a child of science’, which endeared him to the young researchers and everyone else in the audience. He showed us pages of his scientific data and experiment methods. ‘Ball-point pen was not invented yet’, he exclaimed. It was fascinating to hear how he invented gel electrophoresis "out of laziness" and used machines, such as a homemade PCR machine, that were labeled by other researchers in his lab as "NBGBOKFO" – translated as: "No Bloody Good, But Okay for Oliver".
Christian De Duve went out on quite a limb talking about the future of humanity in his lecture. He received a standing ovation for handing the the baton onto the young generation to ‘do it better’ – ‘our generation messed up’, he said. But actually I felt that although some of De Duve’s speech was rousing, I doubted some of his perspectives were true. I liked what De Duve said about having a better representation of women in powerful positions in society – but then I found it a bit hard to swallow that the young generation ought to be limiting its mumber of children. It is actually consumption by rich peoplewith few children with that is the cause of environmental degradation. If you help people to lift themselves out of poverty (and give them access to family planning), they will have less children, anyway [read this National Geographical population special]. And also I disagree with De Duve’s point on losing environmental ideology. I think it is better to place some value on nature, even if it is to say that it is ‘sacred’ than none at all. Still, to doubt is in the scientific spirit, and so you can watch the video below and make up your own mind about De Duve’s arguments:
Who know chemistry could be fun? Watch the video of ribosomes making peptide bonds to the Star Wars theme tune and other music, below, in Thomas Steiz’s talk. Watch from abut 14 minutes in.
Ada Yonath speaking about her family certainly tugged on the heart strings. She told us how her granddaughter gave her a framed plaque with the accolade: ‘Best grandma in the world’. Her granddaugher said that it was an award for every year, so her grandma should get better every year to deserve it. The Nobel prize winner, who Yonath has done a lot for our knowledge of the ribosome structure, was humbled in the sweetest way by her own granddaughter. Yonath proves that you can have a family and work as a scientist, answering a very sensitive question. And every woman can relate to the question of how to ‘have it all’ – whether they are a scientist or not. See her talk below.
And of course there were many other special moments. Mine included talking with two Nobel laureates about their humanitarian work, and even dancing with one of them! What were your most memorable bits of the Lindau meeting? Please let me know in the comments.