69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting took place 30 June – 5 July, 2019. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings foster the exchange among scientists of different generations, cultures, and disciplines. This year 39 Nobel Laureates and 580 young scientists from 89 countries participated.

Staffan Dahlström was one of the four Finnish scientist who were selected to participate the meeting. He is a PhD student in physics at Åbo Akademi University, Turku.

“The core of the meeting was to connect and inspire young talented scientists from all over the world in order to learn from each other and from the Nobel Prize winners. The meeting contained different kinds of lectures and interactions where both the Nobel laureates and the young scientists are included. There were a number of different formats for the interactions, we had e.g. lectures, panel discussions, open exchanges, master classes, laureate lunches, science breakfasts, science walks and so on.

Many of the events was open for everyone, but some required us, young scientists, to make a reservation beforehand. The most popular events were booked in a few seconds after opening. I signed up for as many events that I could and as a result I got a quite intense program, starting most days at seven in the morning and ending with a dinner quite late in the evening.

On each day, there was a parallel session in the afternoon where all the Nobel laureates, that had a presentation that particular day, had a session of their own where they answered questions and discussed with young scientists. This was called “open exchange” and the young scientists could choose freely which session they wanted to attend. I really enjoyed this opportunity and the interesting discussions that arose during these events.

The 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting focused on physics. Some of the lectures was focused on recent research in a certain field of physics, some were more specifically presenting the research leading to a Nobel prize and some were more general about research and the future of physics as a research field and its role in society. I think this was a great concept considering the broad audience and the fact that physics is a broad field, going in to detailed research questions would be interesting only for a very small minority of the participants. In general, the meeting gave a very professional impression.

In addition to the scientific program, there was a number of less formal events in order to promote interaction between the participants. You also get to know the Nobel laureates better during some of these events, instead of only talking about their research. I especially enjoyed the international get together hosted by South Africa as well as the Bavarian Evening during which you could get to know more about the different cultures of the people attending the meeting.

The last day of the meeting was spent in a relaxed atmosphere with a boat trip on Lake Constance from the Island of Lindau to the Island of Mainau, which is a beautiful garden island. On the boat trip the nominating institutions and sponsors from the northern countries met with the young scientists from the same area for breakfast.

Even though, the program and the lectures were of very high quality, I was able to find a couple of highlights during the week. There were several panel discussions with young scientists and Nobel laureates and I especially enjoyed the discussions on “The Dark Side of the Universe” and “Physics, Oceans and Our Future”. I liked the first one because of the very high level of expertise in the panel and the second one because of the extremely important topic, even for a conference on physics, relating to the future of our planet.

Another highlight was Nobel laureate William D. Phillips who gave an Agora talk and hosted an open exchange. His ability to engage and inspire his audience was impressive.

I was very lucky to reserve a laureate lunch, among other events, with 2018 Nobel prize winner in physics, Professor Donna Strickland. She seems to be a very nice person and we had fun discussing, among other things, our research, how it is to win the Nobel Prize, the Nobel ceremony and some funny anecdotes from her research career.

I also want to bring up perhaps the most unique part of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting; the extremely social and friendly atmosphere. It felt like there was not a moment when you were not in a discussion with someone, this happened even in the queue for lunch, when walking between sessions and actually already in the train on my way to Lindau from Zürich.

The meeting is very different from the international conferences I am used to visiting. When you go to a scientific conference, you typically choose one that fits your research topics the best. After you get back, you have met many researchers in your own field and you are often full of new ideas and might even have gotten some feedback on your own research results.

The meeting in Lindau is different, you do not meet very many researchers in your own field. Instead you meet very talented young researchers as well as perhaps the very best and well merited researchers in the world. Most likely, you will not get ideas on how to develop your own research, but instead you will grow as a person by meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds and get inspired by all the amazing stories from the lifework of the Nobel laureates.

The meeting also does a great job in emphasizing the big challenges and questions of our time such as climate change and public misinformation where science and science communication plays an important role. Even though, there is clearly no easy answer to solving these big questions.

The obvious question I expect to get after this meeting is: “Well, did you learn what you need to do in order to get the Nobel Prize?” and I am surprised to say, after hearing many Nobel laureates stating it, it seems to be mostly luck. You need to be at the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

For example, Nobel laureate J. Michael Kosterlitz thinks it took him “95% dumb luck and 5% smarts” to get the prize. Given this, the 5% smarts seems to include very thorough research work for every one of the laureates. This also encourages and inspires one to conduct research thoroughly in an ethically correct way which is of great importance for the whole research community. There are no shortcuts.

In conclusion, due to the nature of the meeting, I think I will realize the importance and the impact this meeting has had on me as a person and on my career and career choices later on. Perhaps not in one week or even in one year, but maybe in five years or even ten years from now and I have a feeling that the impact might be substantial.”   -Staffan Dahlström

Nobel Laureate 2018 (physics) Donna Strictland and Staffan Dahlström