by Anna Stakia

I was recently honored to be accepted to participate in the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting which took place in the week of 26/6 – 1/7/2016 in Lindau, Germany. Introducing a bit this year’s meeting: 400 young scientists from 80 countries were provided the opportunity for an in-depth exchange with 29 Nobel Prize and one Turing Award Laureates. This year’s Meeting was mostly dedicated to Physics (most Nobel Laureates had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, fewer in Chemistry).

Well, I frankly don’t know where to begin when it comes to describing this spectacular event. Still there is a mixture of three words which could maybe represent it, the ones that are already included in the Meeting’s trademark: ‘Educate’, ‘Inspire’, ‘Connect’. We indeed had the incredible opportunity to gain significant knowledge and ideas through the lectures, be inspired and motivated by the Laureates, and become acquainted with male and female young scientists from all around the world, studying different fields of Physics (the latter practically defining diversity). In fact, the Nobel Laureate – young scientists’ interaction would include our asking questions directly to the Laureates and discussing several modern scientific issues/challenges/concerns with them, during the coffee breaks or even during lunch/dinner.

Education-wise, the Meeting may be divided into the following parts: lectures, panel discussions, young scientists discussions, master classes, science breakfast – lunch – dinner sessions, poster session.

In this article, I’ll be mostly making an attempt to describe briefly the lectures of this event. This way people who participated can refresh their memory on it and people who haven’t had the chance yet to be introduced to the core of some of the lectures may be prompted to watch the corresponding material uploaded on the Mediatheque. I also include some hints of the overall experience, so as to share the feelings we, the young scientists who participated, had while being an active part of it.

An important thing to be mentioned is that, during the Meeting days, one could visit the ‘Pablo Picasso’s Passions’ exhibition held in the Stadtmuseum (Lindau) as well as the ‘Exhibition Johannes Kepler’ in the Former Imperial City Library, both very close to the Stadttheater (Lindau), where the lectures/panel discussions were held. In the latter, one could admire rare first edition prints of works by Kepler, Copernicus, Galilei, and also of Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’!

1st day – June 26

This was the first and last day that was not (extremely) full of events. Besides the registration process, it consisted of the opening ceremony, which left us with the best of impressions as a representative introduction to what would follow. Specifically, it included welcome speeches by eminent personalities and some marvellous musical pieces conducted by the Ensemble of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

2nd day – June 27

This day was the starting point of the Meeting’s core timetable; first day of the lectures and of the active interaction with the Nobel Laureates. I personally attended the “Quantum Information: from Fundamentals to a New Technology” Science Breakfast, which happened to be scheduled for that day, and which was hosted by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy. William D. Philips (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1997) and David J. Wineland (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2012), as participants of that Breakfast, expressed their interesting views on future challenges in Quantum Information, and were the first two Nobel Laureates we got to meet. Right after the Breakfast the lecture sessions began.

In the first lecture, Hiroshi Amano (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2014) outlined the blue LED creation steps and its extended use: from smartphones and highly efficient/energy saving white-light illumination (not only in developed countries, but even in the temporary shelters of nomadic groups) to water purification (Deep UV LED), showing how innovation in Materials Science and Engineering can notably increase the quality of life worldwide.

Later on, Takaaki Kajita (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2015) described the significant results brought by two of the biggest atmospheric neutrino experiments, Kamiokande and its successor, Super-Kamiokande, regarding the first observation of a deficit in the muon-neutrino events and the final evidence for neutrino oscillations, respectively; the latter implies non-zero neutrino masses, thus enhancing the search for Physics beyond the Standard Model.

The next lecture was given by David J. Gross (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2004), and, on the occasion of the celebration of 100 years of General Relativity, was about Einstein’s enduring legacy. After successfully reconciling Maxwell’s Electromagnetism and Newtonian motion to a Theory of Invariance (Special Relativity) under a principle of symmetry (no privileged observers), Einstein subsequently reconciled this theory with Newtonian gravity introducing gravitational waves (observed for the first time last year by LIGO) in a dynamical spacetime and so General Relativity was derived. Apart from this brilliant theory, and among many other remarkable scientific contributions, Einstein also managed not only to radically change our view of Physical Cosmology but also to trigger the search for a Unified Theory, raising questions that are yet to be answered.

Later, Carlo Rubbia (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1984) presented the Earth’s climate change over time and described how the survival threats due to the “man-made Anthropogenic Era” can be considerably reduced; renewable energy (and its efficient transportation) and Natural Gas (even more, in spontaneous thermal decomposition), as key parts of the energy policy worldwide, could substantially help sustain human civilization on Earth in the far future.

Next, Martinus J. G. Veltman (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1999) discussed how a regulator mechanism helps us cancel out infinities met along our studies (and seen in the Feynman diagrams), and, provided it respects expected properties, how it may end up in the discovery of a new particle undergoing specific interactions; that was the case for the Higgs particle, whose great importance lies in making the theory of Yang-Mills fields renormalizable.

Arthur B. McDonald (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2015) then outlined the (underground, low radioactivity) experiments conducted in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory related to solar neutrino studies, describing the three major experimental phases and the remarkable outcome of the observed change in the electron neutrino type, which further implies a finite mass. Future challenges include Dark Matter searches and neutrino-less double beta decay.

This afternoon panel discussion on ‘Glimpses beyond the Standard Model’ was conducted not only by the Nobel Laureates (Chu, Gross, Kajita, Rubbia) and the young scientists who had the opportunity to interact as well, but also by Fabiola Gianotti (Director-General of CERN), via video live stream from CERN, who shared with the audience up-to-the-moment news on the LHC performance (achieving its design luminosity, one day before!). Without a doubt, that was one of the (actually many) exciting events this Meeting offered.

Later that day, we had a wonderful boat-trip to Bregenz, Austria, where, after attending the live cultural performance by an Austrian music group (Federspiel), we had a nice dinner together with the Laureates.

David J. Gross (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2004) during his lecture

3rd day – June 28

In this day’s first lecture, Serge Haroche (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2012), after illustrating Cavity QED experiments, which, besides the resonant atoms-cavity field interactions, may also provide non-resonant ones (implying non-destructive photon detection), described the corresponding experiments in Circuit QED which induce even stronger matter-light interactions, and outlined the remarkable related applications to Quantum Information.

Afterwards, David J. Wineland (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2012), discussed aspects of the pioneering atomic clock, from the initial conception that the atomic energy state superpositions practically act like a pendulum clock, along with the weaknesses of the latter, to the main points of its evolution (including the mercury and aluminum ion ones), and the challenges arising from the systematic frequency shifts that affect the measurements.

Theodor W. Hänsch (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2005) later discussed the way human conception of light and matter has evolved over time and the questions that still remain. From the light interference discovery to the matter-antimatter comparison experiments, precision measurements play a key role. In this context, the frequency comb is a significant tool with various applications, even in -currently challenging- precision astronomy searches.

In the next lecture, William D. Phillips (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1997) described the major steps towards achieving a Bose-Einstein condensate; successive laser and evaporative cooling makes the bosonic gas cold and dense enough, preventing any ‘ordinary’ condensation. This gaseous superfluid acts as a macroscopic quantum state, and can support a (quantized) current when put into a ring trap under specific control, thus inaugurating ‘atomtronics’.

Klaus von Klitzing (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1985) then showed us how his research on silicon field effect transistors finally even enhanced Quantum Metrology. The Quantum Hall and Josephson effects via their corresponding von Klitzing and Josephson constants and their introduced conventional quantum units have triggered the expected SI change: redefinition of the kilogram after ‘fixing’ the Planck constant (Watt balance/Avogadro project).

Throughout the Meeting, both William D. Phillips and Klaus von Klitzing would provide us -after addressing our questions- with the 2014 CODATA wallet card of the fundamental physical constants (published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology), namely the latest updated one and at the same time last one based on the current SI of units; in 2018 SI will be revised, as clearly described in Klaus von Klitzing’s lecture.

Then, Gerardus ‘t Hooft (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1999), after underlining the importance of accurate observations towards the implementation of new discoveries, described the major challenges met in the Weak force studies, and discussed the reasoning behind the proposal of the Higgs particle (strongly related to mass and spin), whose recent discovery by the LHC experiments actually constitutes a marvelous success of the accurate theoretical predictions.

With Takaaki Kajita (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2015)

4th day – June 29

In the first lecture, George F. Smoot (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2006), given the two recently confirmed events of Gravitational Waves detection by LIGO from two pairs of merging black holes (announcements on 11/02/16 and 15/06/16), gave us a brief history of the main related experimental attempts, described the ‘golden events’ illustrated in the data provided by the two LIGO sites, and even demonstrated the impressive sound of the colliding black holes.

Afterwards, Samuel C. Ting (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1976) described the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a precision particle physics detector on the International Space Station, which, besides the studies on the charged cosmic rays, also includes searches for the origin of Dark Matter, for Antimatter and even new phenomena, having so far provided significant results on the positron fraction and on the spectra and flux ratios of elementary particles.

In the next lecture, Kurt Wüthrich (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 2002) talked about the historical background of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) experiment and the subsequent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) development, explaining the way the use of specific parameters can contribute to picturing particles despite their undergoing constant Brownian motion, and focused on the significant applications of this in medical diagnosis.

Then, Steven Chu (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1997) outlined the way the development of new detection and imaging methods has triggered great advances in medicine and biomedical research; super-resolution imaging helps detect and prevent the pairing of the Ras molecules, nanoparticles probes allow seeing deeply into tissue, nanodiamonds injected into a developing mouse embryo (dividing together with the cells) give valuable information.

The following lecture was given by Hartmut Michel (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 1988) who described the biggest environmental catastrophe in Earth’s history: the invention of oxygenic photosynthesis (Greatest Oxygenation Event), and proceeded outlining and comparing the ways nature coped with the general extinction threat: the developed bd and hemmer copper terminal oxidases, which removed molecular oxygen via reduction to water.

Subsequently, Johann Deisenhofer (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 1988) focused on the photosynthetic procedure, the chloroplast structure and the common features of three different photosynthetic systems (purple bacteria, cyanobacteria and green plants – PS I and II), using the examples of B. viridis, S. elongatus and T. vulcanus. In fact, this remarkable similarity observation may imply a single development of the photosynthetic ability on Earth.

Later, Robert Huber (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 1988), starting from the rise of Structural Chemistry, illustrated aspects of the now developed protein crystallography, describing thrombin as a known protease, proteasomes, and the proteolytic activity to be controlled, and outlined the nowadays significant pharmaceutical application of the Structural Biology academic research in many fields, including that of the autoimmune diseases.

In the afternoon lectures session:

Brian D. Josephson (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1973) discussed how conventional Physics, aiming mainly on ‘matter’ and information processing rather than ‘meaning’, may incorporate semiotics and other perspectives met in biological systems so as to evolve overcoming the challenges; entanglement of ‘physical’ and ‘mental’, and focusing more on connections/topology than on the quantitative core may reveal new potentialities of nature.

Vinton G. Cerf (ACM A.M. Turing Award, 2004) then unfolded the evolution of the Internet. From the ARPANET first implementation, and the TCP/IP and WWW* invention to the future challenges of Interplanetary networks, packets, routers and protocols cooperate in a clear, layered and modular manner setting no constraints in developing applications, therefore boosting not only research and human communication, but culture in general.

* more about the birth of the Web (occurred at CERN)

With Vinton G. Cerf (ACM A.M. Turing Award, 2004)

5th day – June 30

The first lecture was by Stefan W. Hell (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 2014) who described the achievement of greatly improving the light microscopy resolution, by shifting the former center of research from the lens’ focusing impervious barrier to the molecular states’ flexible use. Stimulated emission helps separating molecules between two states (on/off), boosting the related applications in biology, material sciences, magnetic sensing, quantum information.

Subsequently, Dan Shechtman (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 2011), gave us an interesting lecture about the nature of soap bubbles, which in fact reminded me of a question I had when I was little; how come oil-made soaps eliminate oil-made spots! Anyway, we were able to learn about the hydrophilic/phobic parts of the soap molecules, the micelles created when grease, soap and water meet, and the fascinating structure of the soap bubble through its color bands, turbulence and black spots observed, until gravity makes it pop.

In the next lecture, Ada E. Yonath (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 2009), described the protein production mechanism in the ribosomes, whose architecture may indicate a connection to the proto-ribosome (possible ‘source’ of life), drawing the intriguing conclusion that the genetic code has likely co-evolved together with its products. Yonath also suggested some wise approach to the continuously developing antibiotic resistance of the pathogens.

Martin Karplus (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry, 2013) then introduced us to the great issue of motion from animals to molecules, and its connection to life, separating man- and nature-made molecules, the latter being characterized by Feynman’s ‘jiggling and wiggling of atoms’. Examples of the adenylate kinase and kinesin motor dynamics were illustrated and described together with the crucial linking of myoglobin to motion, and the role of ATP.

Later on, Carl E. Wieman (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2001) outlined the major principles of effective science teaching and learning, given the results of several educational experiments; scientific teaching methods which allow feedback of the students’ learning status, together with a mental organizational framework and learning/thinking monitoring in each individual, can make expert thinking levels attainable and thus accelerate progress in research.

Afterwards, Brian Schmidt (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2011) described the main knowledge of the Universe we so far have, since its birth, 13.8 billion years ago, and the cosmology questions that still remain unanswered. The Λ-CDM cosmological model, the composition, geometry, density of the Universe, the evidence for an accelerating expansion, the initial density fluctuations from inflation, were among the intriguing issues discussed in this lecture.

The last lecture was given by Roy J. Glauber (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2005), a former scientist of the Manhattan Project, who shared his historical experience of that time in Los Alamos, through pictures showing among others Oppenheimer, von Neumann, Bethe, Bohr, Feynman, Segre, Chamberlain, following an introduction about the neutron experiments, with images picturing Fermi, Hahn, Meitner, Szilard, Bainbridge, and other prominent physicists.

Right after the educational part of that day, we enjoyed the ‘Bavarian Evening’ dinner, during which we had the great chance to interact again not only with the other young scientists (many of them were dressed in their countries’ traditional costumes!), but also with the Laureates; we discussed and exchanged ideas under the sound of traditional Bavarian music.

With Brian Schmidt (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2011)

6th day – July 1

On the last day of this exciting ‘journey’, we had a boat trip to the beautiful Mainau island, where, in short, we attended (and participated in) a panel discussion on the future of education in sciences, and then had a Science Picnic on the Arboretum Lawn, surrounded by a stunning landscape.

So that was it, regarding this exceptional experience. Back to CERN, one week now before the important 38th International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP).

The Lindau Meeting has offered us a unique, astonishing, inspiration-flavored experience; I guess this is the ‘Lindau Spirit’ Countess Bettina Bernadotte (President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings) implied when introducing that term in the Opening Ceremony. All the young scientists attended the Meeting have had the great opportunity to become acquainted and interact with a group of people including both distinguished and developing scientists; I would personally be grateful to meet people from that group again in the near future, keeping this Lindau Spirit alive. Or, as the sign at the departure platform on the Mainau island said: ‘Auf Wiedersehen’!


I would like to thank the Onassis Foundation that supported my participation at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Featured Image: With Arthur B. McDonald (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2015)

Credits to Marta Tarkanovskaja, Philippos Papadakis, Theodoros Papanikolaou for their pictures