How To Reach C&ENACS Membership Number


August 19, 2002
Volume 80, Number 33
CENEAR 80 33 pp. 36-40, 50
ISSN 0009-2347

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Chemistry graduate students and postdocs from around the world meet with Nobel Laureates to discuss research, discovery, and life in general


EXHILARATING Lindau's beautiful harbor offered a delightful break for students and laureates. PHOTO BY MADELEINE JACOBS

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Those are the words that kept coming up in conversation with students who attended the 52nd Meeting of the Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany, July 1–5. Whether they hailed from Germany, Israel, Brazil, India, Africa, or the U.S., the students were unanimous in their agreement that they never expected to meet a Nobel Laureate. But to actually have a meal with a number of Nobel Laureates; talk to them informally one-on-one; and discuss views on the nature of discovery, scientific research, and even spiritual matters--that was beyond their wildest dreams.

And yet these dreams and much more came true this year, and have come true each summer for hundreds of students, on the island of Lindau, an enchanting medieval city located in Lake Constance. Lindau has been the unusual setting for bringing together Nobel Laureates and students since 1951, when the first meeting was held under the auspices of Count Lennart Bernadotte.

This year's meeting attracted more than 600 undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows--almost all of them chemistry students and fellows--and 17 Nobel Laureates. Typically, the laureates are invited to Lindau in three-year cycles alternating among physicists, chemists, and medical scientists.

"This is a wonderful experience for young scientists," said Victor R. Sojo Márquez, who is completing his undergraduate studies in chemistry at Universidad Central de Venezuela. "You meet the laureates, whom you thought of as superhuman. And you find out they're human, just like you."

"You think of Nobel Laureates sometimes as machines," agreed Glake A. Hill Jr., a fourth-year graduate computational chemistry student at Jackson State University, in Mississippi, and one of 39 members of the U.S. delegation. "But here, we realize they're fallible. They eat and breathe like everyone else. It's reassuring. But I also had incredible scientific conversations. Computational chemists sometimes feel that they're on the fringe of chemistry. I asked the laureates what I could do to make computational chemistry more interesting. And these discussions spurred and reinforced my desire to be a computational chemist."

CONVERSANT Among the laureates joining Countess Sonja (back row) in Lindau are (back row, from left) Mossbauer, Deisenhofer, Olah, Ernst, Eigen, (front row, from left) Karle, Kroto, Klug, Arber, Fischer, and Boyer. © ANNETTE JORDAN PHOTOGRAPHY

"THEY'RE REGULAR people just like me," said Robert J. Meagher, who has just finished his second year at Northwestern University working on a novel technique for DNA sequencing using capillary electrophoresis. "To be able to talk with them about their work, to realize that they have interests outside their field, to realize that they are broader than the area for which they got their Nobel Prize--that was great. One night we talked about politics, religion, and environmental problems with several laureates."

For Yossi Elran, from Bar-Ilan University, in Israel, the "interaction with students from around the world was the most exciting part. Everyone here has found people to talk with for future collaborations." Elran was one of 11 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from Israel, whose delegation was put together for the first time by Libby E. Anfinsen, wife of the late Nobel Laureate Christian B. Anfinsen.

Most of the students from the Israeli and Indian delegations--all from highly elite scientific institutions in their respective countries--had never met each other (even when they worked at the same institution), much less students from around the world. Students from those two delegations, and from the U.S. delegation, were particularly pleased to find new colleagues in their own country.

Matthew Douglas, a third-year graduate student at Washington State University working on the chemistry of uranium(VI), had a similar take-away message: "I realize that part of being a great scientist is having a global outlook, understanding how you fit into the whole picture. For the continued success and advancement of science, it will take an interdisciplinary and multinational cooperation to raise the level of science in the entire world."

GUIDING Forsén, Gräslund, and Andersson kept discussions moving. PHOTO BY MADELEINE JACOBS
ILLUMINATING Kroto enthralled students in afternoon discussions. © ANNETTE JORDAN PHOTOGRAPHY
Randall McDermott, a third-year graduate student at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, studying turbulent reacting flows, reflected on the week this way: "This is, quite simply, one of those life-changing experiences."

Count Lennart must be happy to hear this affirmation of his Nobel experiment. For decades, he has been the ever-present driving force behind the meetings, intended to increase understanding among scientists and students around the world. His wife, Countess Sonja, has been actively involved in the Committee for the Meeting of the Nobel Laureates in Lindau for more than 30 years. One of their daughters, Comtesse Bettina, also works for the committee.

Countess Sonja is working hard to expand funding--most comes from the governments of Germany and other participating nations, various foundations, and at times the European Commission--and has established a foundation to ensure long-term financial stability. She wants to bring more students from developing nations and build up a network of Lindau alumni.

The chemistry laureates attending this year were Paul D. Boyer (University of California, Los Angeles, 1997 laureate), Paul J. Crutzen (Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany, 1995), Johann Deisenhofer (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, 1988), Manfred Eigen (Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry, Gottingen, 1967), Richard R. Ernst (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, 1991), Ernst O. Fischer (Technical University of Munich, 1973), Robert Huber (Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Munich-Martinsried, 1988), Jerome Karle (Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C., 1985), Aaron Klug (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England, 1982), Sir Harold W. Kroto (University of Sussex, Brighton, England, 1996), Jean-Marie Lehn (Université Louis Pasteur Strasbourg and Collège de France, 1987), Hartmut Michel (Max Planck Institute of Biophysics, Frankfurt, 1988), George A. Olah (University of Southern California, 1994), and Ahmed E. Zewail (California Institute of Technology, 1999).

Although this year was the year for chemistry laureates, two physics laureates, Willis E. Lamb (1955) and Rudolf L. Mossbauer (Technical University of Munich, 1961), and one laureate in medicine or physiology, Werner Arber (University of Basel, 1978), also attended.

Members of the Nobel Foundation and the Nobel Prize committees are also deeply involved in the meetings. This year's representatives were Bertil Andersson, deputy member of the Nobel Foundation and member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry; Astrid Gräslund, vice chairman of the department of biochemistry and biophysics, Stockholm University, and secretary of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Sture Forsén, deputy director of the Nobel e-Museum of the Nobel Foundation and a former member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry; Bengt J. F. Nordén, chair of physical chemistry of Chalmers University of Technology and chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry; and Anders Bárány, professor of physics at Stockholm University, secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physics, and director of the Nobel Museum.

This year's meeting followed the general pattern of previous years: a formal opening ceremony, four mornings filled with panel sessions and individual lectures by the laureates on a subject of their choosing, and three afternoons of smaller group discussions with individual laureates. All events are held in the modern Lindau conference center situated on one of the island's harbors. A concert and opportunities for sight-seeing are among the many social activities.

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REGULAR PEOPLE Students had ample opportunities for one-on-one talks with laureates. Pictured here (clockwise from above): Karle with Tanja Cuk, Boyer with Susan M. Dounce, and Deisenhofer (left) with Hill. PHOTOS BY MADELEINE JACOBS 8033scit1.food1

In addition, students have ample time to talk to laureates at the festive opening dinner, at small lunches and dinners throughout the week, and on the final ferry boat ride and closing ceremony on the island of Mainau, owned by Count Lennart and now a botanical garden open to the public.

Countess Sonja began the meeting by paying tribute to Count Lennart, who did not attend because of frail health. "The success of these meetings is due to the Count, on whose shoulders we rest and whose great commitment has enabled us to achieve so much," she told the gathering. In his honor, she announced the establishment of the Lennart Bernadotte Gold Medal, which was given for the first time to Josef Steurer, the former mayor of Lindau, "for his many contributions to the meeting over the years."

Students then were introduced to the political side of science, as several German dignitaries gave speeches on the importance of science and technology in general and chemistry in particular. Then, Wolfgang Schürer, who chairs the Foundation for the Meetings in Lindau, introduced Joachim Milberg, former CEO of BMW and a new member of the foundation's Honorary Senate.

Milberg, long known for his support of research and development at the luxury carmaker, gave the students an important message--one that they didn't hear again during the week. "The success of industry is due to connections between research and business," Milberg said. "As the world becomes more complex, we can only cope through cooperation. This depends on the ability to translate research into insights for practical applications."

His comments segued nicely into a lively panel discussion on "What Can Chemistry and the Scientific Community Contribute in Alfred Nobel's Spirit to the Benefit of Mankind in the 21st Century?" The panel featured Crutzen, Ernst, Kroto, Olah, and Zewail, and was moderated by Nordén, who immediately found himself in the middle of a political dialogue.

FIRST-TIMERS The Israeli delegation (back row, from left) included Amir Goldbourt, Oded Hod, Elran, Ariel Lindner, Roie Yerushalmi, Shay Tal, (front row, from left) Dafna Arieli, Sigal Saphier, Michal Lahav, and Ayelet Vilan. Not pictured: Fernando Patolsky.

After a brief presentation about atmospheric chemistry and the impact of global warming by Crutzen, Ernst launched into an attack on U.S. foreign policy, singling out the Bush position on the Kyoto protocol and other international agreements that the Bush Administration has not ratified. He mocked President George W. Bush with editorial cartoonist depictions of him, to the applause of most in the audience, as U.S. and Israeli delegations sat stone-faced.

Kroto was up next, telling the students that the main thing "you need to learn is doubt. Don't believe anything you're told without good reason and argument. Doubt underpins science." Then it was Olah's turn. In an eloquent rebuttal to Ernst, he reminded the students, "Chemistry is the central science. I strongly believe that chemistry has much to offer you. But chemistry, besides allowing you to acquire knowledge, must provide solutions.

"Science, chemistry, is international--there is no American or German science--it is international. Kyoto was mentioned. It is not enough to wave your hand about Kyoto. You must come up with solutions. We are producing carbon dioxide. We've been producing carbon dioxide as long as we have been here on Earth. I don't question that human activity has a major effect and we should take actions to mitigate the effect. But Kyoto was a political solution. It didn't offer a scientific solution. I personally believe that there are scientific solutions, and chemistry is a part of them.

"Just making a joke about the U.S. isn't really fair," he continued. "As scientists, we shouldn't worry about nationalities; we should worry about solutions. As scientists, we are trained to look at facts. We shouldn't care about politics. We should try to find the best science and the best solutions." Enthusiastic applause followed.

ILLUMINATING Participating in a lively panel were (from left) Kroto, Zewail, Olah, Nordén, Ernst, and Crutzen. PHOTOS BY MADELEINE JACOBS

The rest of the panel was tame in comparison. Zewail talked about the nature of discovery (C&EN, July 15, page 3) and reinforced the idea that "science is not at the end of its boundaries. Such thinking is extremely dangerous."

Nordén opened the question-and-answer session with the wry understatement that the focus of Lindau is "young researchers. This is your chance to meet each other and to meet the Nobel Laureates. As you can see, they are quite different characters and quite different human beings."

The young researchers took this quite seriously, asking probing questions at this and other sessions that followed.

The questions ran the gamut, from very technical questions about the scientific lectures to those involving issues of science and society. In the panel discussions, the young researchers could see how one question leads to another. For example, one student asked the question, "Suppose you make a fundamental but potentially dangerous discovery that could be for the benefit of mankind. Would you publish it?"

Zewail responded: "When you do work on a discovery, you don't necessarily know what the bad applications of that science will be. For example, consider cloning. Society will have to decide what it wants to do, but you can't stop scientists from doing the work."

Kroto added: "Our technologies are becoming so powerful, they can be used for detriment or benefit of mankind. How do we police that? It's very difficult. That's the worry. Scientists need to be involved in that discussion."

Another young researcher posed the question: "How can science ambassadors reduce very specialized knowledge to something understandable without simplifying the science?"

CELEBRANTS At the opening night festivities, India's Smriti Trikha (left) and Reetika Gaur flashed winning smiles in their saris.
LUNCHTIME U.S. delegates (from left) Vernessa M. Edwards, Robin Macaluso, and Michael W. Blair took a break from the meeting.
This brought multiple answers. "If a scientist can't explain the research in simple terms, he doesn't understand it himself," Ernst replied. "You have to devote some time to translate your research."

To which Olah responded: "Oversimplification can be dangerous. We should pursue science for the sake of understanding, but then it is necessary to make knowledge accessible."

Kroto added: "People have to meet scientists halfway. If I want to understand Schiller and Goethe, I have to learn German. People have to take the time to learn the language of science. It's difficult and it's hard. So there is work required from the other side."

And so went the discussions all week, and the politics of science was not lost on the students. Many of the American students were upset to learn how the U.S. government is viewed by many in the rest of the world. But most agreed with Christine Aikens, a second-year student in theoretical chemistry at Iowa State University, who said, "It was very eye-opening to hear science discussed in such a political way by some of the laureates as well as gain an international perspective on how the U.S. relates to the rest of the world."

BUT POLITICS was a small part of the meeting, and in the end, everyone was refocused on chemistry by Forsén, who introduced the panel session on the postgenomic world on the next to last day. "We should regard modern chemistry as 'molecular science.' Today, chemists are involved in just about anything. ... The problems chemists work on may have originated in biology or in physics, and the borderlines are very fuzzy. I think we can safely predict that chemists--'molecular scientists'--are not likely to be out of jobs soon and that they will very much be involved in any activity characterizing the postgenomic era, especially since the focus now will be on proteins!"

The next day, on the ferryboat to Mainau, students and laureates alike took in the beauty of Lake Constance, the third largest lake in Central Europe, bordering Germany and Switzerland. They chatted amid the warm sunshine and reflected on the week, which one and all agreed had passed too quickly. The students gave kudos to all the laureates and to Karle's wife, Isabelle, a notable scientist in her own right, praising their accessibility, warmth, scientific knowledge, and sense of humor.

FOR THEIR PART, the laureates love this meeting. Karle and Deisenhofer are among the laureates who have attended seven times. They all enjoy talking to each other--this is one of the few times when Huber, Michel, and Deisenhofer get together, for instance--but they know that the real reason they are there is to impart some down-to-earth, hard-earned wisdom to young, open, and intelligent minds.
CONTINENTAL Meeting for the first time were (from left) Eriola Betiku (Nigeria), Merlin Y. Tchawa (Cameroon), and Akintayo E. Temitope (Nigeria).
"I tell them you can't know everything, but you have to know how to find out," Klug told C&EN.

"I tell them to have a goal and pursue it," Jerome Karle said. "I tell them to determine what it is that they would really like to do with their lives--and then do it."

Isabelle Karle smiled and added, "I tell them it's more important to do what you like than to do things that have material rewards but are grating on the soul."

"I hope, and I know, that students do get encouraged from these meetings to continue their science," Countess Sonja told C&EN. "They take with them a deep impression of the personalities of the laureates, and good memories."

Three comments from U.S. students posted on the delegation's website support her: "All of the laureates stressed, one way or another, the importance of doing something that you are passionate about and sharing this passion and knowledge with younger generations," said Shelley R. Gilliss, a third-year graduate student in materials science at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. "This message was very inspirational."

"Meeting Nobel Laureates one-on-one made me realize that we are all capable of having great success," said Rose M. Hernandez, a fourth-year graduate student at Pennsylvania State University. "Nobel Laureates were students that had the same struggles and doubts during the course of their career just like me, yet they achieved the highest honor a scientist can earn. This experience has encouraged and reassured my career choice as a scientist."

Or, as Derrik S. Helfer, who has finished his second year in graduate chemistry studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo, said, "The experience, in all, has been truly awesome."

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