I am still buzzing after attending the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting closing event hosted by the forward-thinking German state of Baden-Württemburg. I know I am not the only one, as I overheard, “That was the best boat ride I’ve ever taken in my life. Period!” from one scientist as they left the boat begrudgingly. I couldn’t agree more, as the day was spent cruising Lake Constance and exploring the Island of Mainau with Nobel Laureates and young scientists from around the world. It was the perfect end to a week-long event focused on exchanging ideas and talking about the future of science in a relaxed environment. As we explored Lake Constance aboard the cutting-edge MS Sonnenkönigen, I would catch pieces of conversation as people talked about science with gusto. “This is where world-changing ideas will happen,” I thought to myself as I looked out at the vineyards and charming villages lining the shores of Baden-Württemberg, the state where Albert Einstein was born, and which fittingly dedicates 4.9% of its GDP towards R&D.
I want to thank Baden-Württemberg for inviting and hosting me on this event, but all views are my own. I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience this beautiful part of Germany with such inspiring people. Baden-Württemberg now ranks as one of my favorite places in the country, and the event left me with hope for our future.
What are the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings?
Every year, dozens of Nobel Laureates (those that have won the Nobel Prize, science’s most prestigious award) gather together with the future generation of undergraduates, Ph.D. students, and post-doc researches from more than 80 countries for a week-long event aimed at sharing information and knowledge. The Lindau Meetings cover scientific breakthroughs in the fields of Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, and occasionally Economics.
The event is informal by design, to allow for the free flow exchange of scientific knowledge between cultures, generations, and genders to solve some of the Earth’s biggest questions. Dialogue happens in various ways including lectures, panels, lunch with the Laureates, science walks, Master Classes which allow young scientists to receive feedback on their work, and poster sessions for 30 students to showcase their most promising work with awards being handed out at the closing ceremony on Lake Constance.
When I asked many of the up-and-coming scientists what their favorite part of the event was, they almost always said that it was the ability to have a personal connection with the world’s leading scientists. For example, several female scientists I talked to said that having lunch or dinner with Laureate Donna Strickland, was a highlight for them.
Donna Strickland wasn’t just inspiring to the women at the event. Her name came up a lot on the boat as nearly every single person I talked to mentioned interaction with Strickland as a highlight. Every time I spotted her on the boat or around Mainau, she had a trail of eager students in tow. Strickland won the Nobel Prize for her work in Physics, and her ability to inspire the next generation of scientists is powerful. She wasn’t the only Laureate always surrounded by a group of younger scientists, reflecting that the relationships created in Lindau were intimate and meaningful.
The Closing Event: Cruising Lake Constance with Baden Württemberg
The Morning Cruise
After an exciting week at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, everyone had a lot to process and digest. And what better way to do so than by letting loose and recounting all the great panels, discussions, and connections made on a gorgeous boat cruising Lake Constance?
We boarded the MS Sonnenkönigen bright and early in the morning, welcomed by a smiling Stag and Griffin, the mascots of Baden-Württemberg. Eyes widened with delight as scientists explored all four decks of the decadent boat with glass panels reflecting the shimmering water. At the top, was a glorious sun deck where everyone could breathe in the fresh morning air rising from the misty lake. As I began to wander the boat myself, it was immediately apparent that this event did bring together ideas from around the world and across cultures. Looking at all the diverse faces, I felt a glimmer of hope that the future would see great scientific minds rise to combat global challenges, regardless of cultures, age, or gender.
I shuffled into the group, worried that I – a writer with a passion for science would find myself out of my league. To be honest, I was a bit star-struck being among so many great minds, but everyone was so excited to talk about their work striking up a conversation was easy. At one point, I was sitting on the sundeck and started talking to a gentleman sitting next to me. He shared information about his work in Black Holes, and I said, “You must have been so excited when they finally captured an image of a Black Hole!” He said, “Oh, yeah, that was the team I worked with, so naturally, I was pretty excited!” Just like that, I met a famous contemporary scientist, Ziri Younsi, an Astrophysicist at the University College London, who had worked on a project I knew about and made global mainstream news! We also had the chance to talk about Dr. Katie Bouman’s work writing the algorithm that allowed for the image to be processed.
As I continued to chat with young scientists, I noticed one thing was missing, the Nobel Laureates. No sooner than I realized they were missing, our boat docked near a wonderful lakeside hotel where all the Laureates were staying. As we docked, I was in the middle of talking to a scientist from Belarus, and I asked him if it was exciting to see the Laureates, he shrugged it off and said, “not really,” but then excitedly pulled me over to the edge of the boat to cheer and wave as the Laureates boarded. Clearly, the ability to interact with Nobel Prize winners had made a profound impact on every person on the ship.
Nobel Laureates Boarding
Thankfully, I was also able to easily approach and talk to Nobel Laureates such as Joachim Frank, a German-American biophysicist at Columbia University. He was happy to be back in Germany, connecting with scientists from around the world.
He said, “When I was younger I always felt like Nobel Laureates were unattainable or unapproachable. So, it feels good to be here connecting with students. I chose to come to Lindau because it brings people together and you can get students more interested in science.”
When asked how winning a Nobel Prize had impacted his career, he observed that it had pushed him to do even more, “It made me more adventurous, encouraged and motivated me to explore methods beyond.” I found this insight very refreshing as even after winning a Nobel Prize in 2017, considered the pinnacle of a scientific career, he was still continuing to innovate in his research.
As we sailed over the vast, bustling waters of Lake Constance, moments like that happened not only for me but everyone on the boat.
We had to take a break from our deep conversations to eat the breakfast of Baden-Württemberg. Pretzels, of course! The Pretzel is one of the many life-changing inventions to come out of Baden-Württemberg, along with the wall plug and automobile.
While we munched on our pretzels, the winners of the poster sessions were announced on center stage. There were five winners total, with the first place award going to An Pan, from the Xi’an Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics.
We set a course for the Island of Mainau, and as we sailed the students and scientists were able to learn about the various research opportunities in Baden-Württemberg. Exhibits representing 75 Universities and research opportunities that receive more funding than anywhere in the EU showcased their research. I talked to one aspiring scientist, Akorede Kalejaiye, who was finishing up his bachelors at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria. He said he was hoping to find a European university with which to continue his studies. Every time I spotted him, he was in front of an exhibit, deep in conversation learning about various research opportunities.
3 interior levels of the boat
Students learning about research opportunities in Baden-Württemberg
When we docked on the Island of Mainau, it was hard to know where to look. The lush island hosted a plethora of things to visit like a castle, a church, vineyards, a butterfly house, botanical gardens, waterfalls, and swimming areas which encompass the best that Baden-Württemberg has to offer. But, we had a singular destination in mind, the castle courtyard for the final panel discussion of the Nobel Laureate Meetings.
Before the panel, a discussion between Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Adam Smith, the CSO of Nobel Media took place that moved the crowd to tears. Karman won the Peace Prize for her work advocating for women’s rights and freedom of the press in Yemen. She was the first Peace Prize winner invited to the event, and her tale of oppression and fight for the rights of women and children was truly inspirational. She received a standing ovation from the crowd and moved many to tears.
The panel discussion was less emotional, but equally important, with prestigious members such as Vinton Cerf, one of the “fathers of the internet”, Adriana Marais, Head of Innovation at SAP, Steven Chu, a Physics Laureate, Brian Schmidt, a Physics Laureate and more hosted a discussion on “How Can Science Change the World for the Better?” It was fascinating to learn that the majority of the panel felt that science was ready and in a place to change the world, but it often comes down to the mismanagement of the government and societal pressures that prevent science from making the big changes it needs to make.
“We can hold our political leaders accountable, that is something we can all do,” and should do more,” said Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt.
Read more about the closing panel:
How Can Science Change the World For Better? Panel
Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
It was clear that events like the Nobel Laureates Meetings are critical to gett people working together from around the world in order to move toward common goals beyond politics and culture.
After these insightful discussions, we moved to the Arboretum Lawn for a science picnic, where everyone found themselves adding to the topics of the panels over lunch.
The attendees also received ample free time to roam Mainau Island, which is a living showcase of how important sustainability and science is to the state of Baden-Württemberg. Along with a scenic Planet Walk that takes you through tranquil woods with trees more than 150 years old, the Island of Mainau promotes a sustainable environment and works closely to reduce energy and foster green spaces.
As the Nobel Laureate in Physics, Joseph H. Taylor said, “Mainau is special.” when referring to the environment on the island and how it provides an ideal setting for the international exchange of ideas. Taylor won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993 and is known for his work on pulsars and spent some of his career putting his research on hold in order to teach. His message to young scientists was, “everyone makes mistakes, even Einstein.”
The Importance of Baden-Württemberg and The Laureate Meetings
A true testament to this was made clear during the closing event, where I witnessed people from all over the world coming together to form friendships and create ideas. One of my favorite moments came as I talked to three young scientists Nicole Thomas, Julia Healy, and Peter Boorman, who are all Astrophysicists from universities in South Africa and the U.K. They were huddled in a corner talking excitedly, and when I asked them what was so exciting, they told me that they met at this event and their work and field of study aligned so perfectly. They intend to stay in touch and conduct research together in the future, despite the distance between their universities.
Friends and scientific connections across borders!
Connections like this have been happening since 1951 when German physicians Franz Karl Hein and Gustav Wilhelm Parade approached Count Lennart Bernadotte of Mainau Island in Baden-Württemberg, who had connections to the royal family of Sweden. They were hoping to create an event to bring scientists together despite the challenging global climate post WW2. Thanks to their efforts, seven Nobel Laureates agreed to come to Germany for the first event, which was recognized as a form of post-war reconciliation. Due to its success, the event grew to include younger scientists. It is now renowned world-wide as an event that brings the best minds from over 80 countries together to tackle global issues and foster progress and peace.
To this day, the Bernadotte family and the Island of Mainau island play an essential role in hosting the Nobel Laureate Meetings. Countess Bernadotte, who has taken the reins of hosting the meetings from her father, is a key patron and warmly welcomes the scientists to Mainau for the closing event. As we departed the island, she was seen waving a white handkerchief sending us off with well wishes and the promise to return to Lake Constance the following year.
Baden-Wurttemberg in a Snapshot: The Perfect Mix of Science and Fun!
A Tearful Goodbye
With the last official events drawing to a close, the scientists and Laureates boarded the boat once more and officially graduated into becoming Lindau Nobel Laureate Alumni. To celebrate, everyone let loose with an ice-cold beer or lemonade on the cruise back to Lindau from Mainau. A band took center stage, and several Laureates and their partners swung onto the floor to kick off the dancing proving that they really can do just about everything. It wasn’t long before the band was playing hits from around the world including K-Pop, Ragge, West African Music, Rock, Dance, and Classics, a nod to the 89 countries represented at the event – they really could play it all.
When we docked at the Laureates’ hotel, I heard an unusual sound vibrating through the boat. As I peered over the edge, Isaw hundreds of hands beating the metal sides of the boat sending booming sound waves echoing off Lake Constance. They were applauding the Laureates and thanking them for all the time they gave listening, advising, and sharing ideas. The send-off, while emotional, reflected the importance and impact of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings to young scientists from around the world.
Attending the closing event of the Nobel Laureate Meetings hosted by Baden-Württemberg left a mark on me. As somewhat of an outsider, I was warmly welcomed into the world of science with open arms, invited to share my thoughts and learn from some of the best minds. I left with hope for the future of science after seeing how this event fostered relationships and ideas that are going to change the world. For a brief moment in time as I sat back and watched the sailboats and rolling hills go by I knew I was part of something bigger than me, bigger than this world, and maybe even the universe. As the sunset on the shores of Lake Constance and the Lindau Meetings, tomorrow would bring future innovations and discoveries that will change our world with ideas that started here. Thank you, Baden-Wurttemberg for the wonderful day sailing Lake Constance and the meaningful connections. It was the perfect day to combine science and fun while continuing the message of the first meetings back in 1951, that science is an omen of peace and will change the world for better.
Looking for a Different Perspective?
Watch Nikita’s YouTube video about our day cruising Lake Constance with Nobel Laureates. I loved getting to know Nikita and she offers great insight as she is pursuing a Ph.D. in a science related field while studying in Germany.
See you soon in Baden-Württemberg!
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