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Blog: among Nobel Laureates and young scientists

Lindau must be the smartest town in Germany right now: 600 young scientists are meeting 37 Nobel Laureates to talk medicine and health. We're there too: #lnlm14!

July 3

It's "the same procedure as every year" in Lindau: the same agenda includes the same events, albeit with different topics. Even a large number of the attending Nobel Laureates are the same. But one thing is different: for the first time, the majority of young scientists are women.

The "Women in Science" breakfast, however, is a somewhat superficial event: Participants discuss that women should stand up to men and choose their partners carefully, that many people don't realize what it means to have an 80-hour-week as a working mom, and that the "not for girls"-attitude of parents, teachers and friends can influence the lives of young girls in such a way that they don't take up a career in scientific fields.

But can women put the credo "Where there's a will, there's a way" really into practice everywhere, easily?

Women gathered around breakfast tables, talking. (Photo: Rolf Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings)

At the "Women in Science" breakfast, participants talked about the difficulties women still face when trying to break into scientific fields

Talking to participants at the event, it becomes clear that in many places, gender has indeed no influence when a position in a scientific field needs to be filled. But in other parts of the world, the situation is quite different. According to a UN-statistic, only one in three girls worldwide attends school at all. The other two have no chance to ever break into a career in natural sciences. To change this, the world needs a lot more than girl-power and women with an iron will.

July 2

Sometimes, one gets the impression that time stands still in Lindau. For example in the historic downtown: narrow streets with shops that simply have inscriptions like "Drugstore" "Wines from Lake Constance" or "Gifts". Quite practical, isn't it - what you see is what you get!

A couple of young scientists at the conference might suffer from culture-shock. Some of them come from mega-cities with more than ten million inhabitants. For them, it's hard to believe how old the town hall is in which the Israeli Nobel Laureate and biochemist Aaron Ciechanover is about to hold a speech.

It was built in 1422, originally in the style of gothic architecture. Today it has more of a renaissance look. The renovation took place in 1576. The rooms look somewhat intimidating: lots of dark wood and little light.

In his Master Class, Ciechanover and the students talk about the collection of scientific journals in the internet. A young scientist holds a presentation about the possibilities that the internet offers by making journals accessible to everybody - that way, scientists can quickly get an overview on who has researched similar topics before.

Ciechanover can hardly hold back his emotions: "I'm not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed," he says. "In my time there was this big thing called a library". That's were he spent a lot of time, not just looking for texts, but also reading them. "To this day, I am addicted to the smell of paper," Ciechanover says. "But you probably have to grow up with it." He calls this "Memories of an old guy."

Still, technical progress is advancing in Lindau as well: while the town still has its ancient looks, many of the young scientists prefer their tablet-PCs to pen and paper for note taking.

July 1

The Spirit of Lindau is back. Every year we read and hear about it, and it seems like a legend, but here at the Nobel Laureate Meeting one can actually feel it: something special. It usually takes some time for the feeling to develop, but eventually this place starts feeling like home. You can approach strangers like they are good friends, talking about anything and everything. It's even better in Lindau when the weather is good - just like today.

You can meet interesting people in Lindau, like Anowara Begum from Bangladesh. She studied public health at the Asian University for Women. In her home-country, Anowara has traveled a lot, but this is the first time in her life the 23-year-old woman has ever been abroad. Her next aim in life: finding work, may be in another country, maybe even in Germany, and then return to Bangladesh to share her experiences with other people.

Another nice acquaintance is Stan Wang. He sat next to me during a Master Class. Before the two-hour-long lessons started, he brought an ice-cream cone with him. During the presentation it became obvious that one scoop was not enough to sustain him for the two-hour session. Stan acts like the typical, nice class clown. Asked where he comes from, Wang just said: "Don't ask. I can't even remember all the places I have lived in."

June 30: a little later

Traditionally on the Monday evening, the "Inselhalle Lindau" - a large conference hall on the peninsula - turns into a giant dining room for "The International Get Together." You may wonder whether the title of the event really captures the spirit of things, given that the entire Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is an international get together! The main language here is English - probably the most common language in the world of natural science.

Another language spoken here is "science language." Not everybody understands it - certainly not "normal" folk, such as journalists. It's easy to get lost when listening in to the talks between the Nobel Laureates and the young scientists, no matter how good your language is - or your understanding of the topic at hand.

But the international spirit is what makes Lindau such a special place. And it's not just about exchanging and sharing hard scientific facts and knowledge, but also about sharing cultures, opinions and customs. That's what counts!

Take for example the soccer match between Algeria and Germany. In Lindau, the World Cup is not "an issue." The International Get Together is all talk, presentations, and at the end a slow dance.

June 30

No doubt, Hans Rosling is right about this: He knows how to tell stories - stories about statistics, about a better world, and about his private life. He spoke to us for almost an hour after the opening ceremony of the Nobel Laureate Meeting - that's longer than some celebrities spend with their fans!

Hans Rosling (Foto: Hannah Fuchs)

A better autograph: Rosling and his statistics

It's easy to become a fan of Rosling once you've experienced him live. Until a day ago, all I knew of the Swedish medicine and statistics professor I'd read on the Internet. He is a star among data visualization fans. If you've never heard of Rosling, go to this link to get an idea.

On Sunday, during his "Ignorance Study" presentation, Rosling focused on statistics dealing with public health and society. It sounded like a dry topic to me at first. The phrase "interactive presentation" was the only thing that gave hope for an entertaining time. But he did not disappoint. Once on stage, Rosling made the data come alive.

Bits of data jumped up at us, like rubber balls. And Rosling, holding a yellow pointer, was always close behind to guide us.

You could feel his dedication. It captivated the audience. You could say it was just boring numbers, but he told an exciting and true story: a story of facts with which he hopes people will be able to understand and change their visions of the world.

Hans Rosling at the Nobel Meeting in Lindau

Colorful hard stats: Rosling knows how to explain data

It's not the numbers and data that fascinate him, though.

"I am fascinated by the people, not the numbers," he says.

But the numbers offer a way to understand the lives of people.

"What is it that can make life better for everyone on this planet? Why does it vary? How do things develop? And why can't we stop some developments?"

The data, says Rosling, will help to answer these questions.

At home in Sweden - when he is not travelling the world to explain it – he is quite "normal." He likes to wander around the forests with his grandchildren.

And what is he afraid of?

"That we won't understand the world in time to change it and make it a better place!" he says. "I don't mean the here and the now. But my grandchildren will have to live with this world a little longer than I."

June 29: a little later

The German astronaut Alexander Gerst greeted the young scientists gathering at Lindau with a video-message from the International Space Station (ISS). Gerst said their "explorer spirit" would make each of them a "Christopher Columbus of the 21st century."

And he should know. Gerst participated in the last Lindau Nobel Laureat Meeting in 2013, where he experience the "spirit of Lindau" first hand. And as anyone needed proof of his having been there, Gerst let his name tag from the event fly freely through the ISS space capsule.

Watch the video from the ISS.

Alexander Gerst Video message to the Nobel Meeting in Lindau

Alexander Gerst sends greetings from 400 kilometers away

June 29, 2014

It's that time again: the 64th Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau starts today.

This year, the main topics are medicine and physiology, including cancer research, immunology, the fight against HIV and AIDS, and other infectious diseases.

Hundreds of young scientists, doctoral and post-doctoral students, are here to learn from their role models: 37 Nobel Laureates.

The young scientists can only ever attend one such Lindau meeting - that is, unless they become a Nobel Laureate.

The excitement is palpable. So let's get going for #lnlm14!

The Nobel Meeting in Lindau

All quite normal in Lindau: chatting with the laureates

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