A Meeting of Great Minds

At a conference in Lindau, Germany, Nobel Prize winners and other scientists meet to share ideas

July 17, 2013

It is no surprise to see why Lindau, Germany, is a popular summer vacation spot. It is a charming, colorful town, filled with cafes, art galleries, and sailboats, located on Lake Constance, which borders three European countries: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. A bigger surprise is that each summer Lindau also opens its doors wide to the world of science. During the first week of July, 625 young scientists from 77 countries gathered here for the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting. A Nobel laureate is a person who has been awarded the highest honor in science and the arts for his or her achievements. 

The goals of the Lindau meetings are: “Educate. Inspire. Connect.” There were many opportunities for all three. This year, 34 Nobel laureates joined young researchers for a week of science lectures, discussions, and special events, which included visits to local schools, international dinners, and traditional music. Because the meeting organizers knew that talking to the some of the most famous scientists in the world might make a young researcher nervous, they told everyone, "Don't be too shy!"

 Explaining the World Around Us

Each year, the Lindau meeting has a theme. This year’s theme was chemistry, which is a large and important field of science. “Chemistry is involved in almost everything, from the shoes we wear to the components of our computers to the food we eat,” Jon Moerdyk, a student from the University of Texas, who attended the meetings, told TFK. “Chemistry helps explain the world around us. Because of chemistry we are able to have enough food to feed [the world’s] people and drugs to treat diseases.”

Nobel laureate Harold Kroto helps fifth graders in Lindau, Germany, create models of buckyballs, a special type of carbon.

Nobel laureate Harold Kroto helps fifth graders in Lindau, Germany, create models of buckyballs, a special type of carbon.

The young researchers who traveled to Lindau were happy to describe how they became interested in science. Laura Mazzaferro grew up in Argentina and studied in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is now working in a lab in Freiburg, Germany. She says what inspired her were “the books my mom gave me that explained the ‘why’ of many things. For instance, ‘why do storms happen?’” Mazzaferro now studies chemical reactions in microbes, or tiny organisms, and hopes her research will help people live healthier lives. 

Banothile Makhubela, a young researcher who grew up in South Africa, and Pablo Zamora, who grew up in Chile, both say that it was their love of insects that got them interested in science. “When I was about 11 years old,” Makhubela says, “I was amazed at seeing an insect that produced light when it flew.” In a class project with other students, she then learned how certain organisms use chemical reactions to produce light, which is called bioluminescence. For Zamora, it was wondering why insects behaved the way they did that fascinated him. “I wanted to explain what I couldn't see,” he says.

At Lindau, even the Nobel laureates got into the school spirit. They attended and gave lectures. During discussion sessions, the scientists shared their ideas.

For the past few years, photographer Volker Steger has asked the Nobel laureates to draw the discovery that made them famous. Steger gives each scientist a large piece of paper and a handful of crayons. "Scientists love to draw,” he says. Some drawings look complicated. Some look simple, and others are playful. One scientist even wrote a poem. All of the drawings follow the Lindau motto to educate, inspire and connect. Are you ready to be inspired by science too?

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