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Two views of the Lindau Nobel chemistry laureates’ meeting

Each year since 1951, young researchers and Nobel laureates have gathered on the shores of Lake Constance for a unique scientific conference. In 2009 the meeting was dedicated to chemistry, and laureates and students all came away enriched by their experiences. Martin Chalfie, one of the three recipients of the 2008 Nobel prize in Chemistry, reports what they learned from each other in the November issue of Nature Chemistry (1, 586-587; 2009) He writes:

“From their reading or from simply listening to my talk, the students generated a large number of fascinating questions. They wanted to know details of the experiments and they wanted to discuss potential future experiments. Conclusions about my research that had taken me years to realize (and which I have not written about or described in my talk) were instantly suggested by several of the students at the session. Seeing their excitement and quickness was humbling, but also invigorating.

The meeting allowed the students (as well as the laureates) to broaden their horizons, to have a chance to meet, exchange ideas, and learn about new areas of research from investigators from all over the world (the conference participants came from 67 different countries). The word ‘exchange’ is important here, because I don’t believe that the real benefits were associated with hearing advice from a bunch of older scientists who had been fortunate enough to get some recognition for their work.” The meeting’s significance is “the acknowledgement it gives to young scientists, especially at a time when they do not get much recognition, that they are on their way to succeeding in science, and that we think that they are important. Although they really do not need any seal of approval, everyone likes to get the occasional pat on the back.”

In a companion article in the same issue of Nature Chemistry (1, 587-590; 2009), Jeffrey R. Lancaster, a fourth-year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, looks back at what he got out of the Lindau meeting: “two subtle points have ultimately distinguished the Lindau meeting for me as a unique event of which I was honoured to have been a part.

First, conversation and the sharing of ideas were fostered not solely between scientists with comparable levels of experience, but also across scientific generations and geographies. I had worthwhile discussions with my peers from Australia, China, India, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain (to name but a few), and was able to speak to scientists at various stages of their careers, from undergraduate to graduate students, postdocs, professors, governmental scientists and, of course, Nobel laureates. Second, the activities pursued by scientists outside of publishable, academic research also featured prominently at the meeting. That scientists might have a life apart from, and in addition to, their research is most often a topic best reserved for conference happy hours, not keynote addresses.”

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