MY LINDAU EXPERIENCE
By Dr Loh Wai Ming
Universiti Sains Malaysia
Walk us through the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
From 30 June to 5 July 2019, I attended the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting dedicated to Physics held at Inselhalle, Lindau, Germany. There were altogether 39 Nobel Laureates (mostly physicists) and 580 international young scientists from 89 countries who participated in the meeting. 4 out of the 580 young scientists were from Malaysia, which included Ong Wee Jun, Fatin Omar, Mohd Arif and I. We arrived at Friedrichshafen airport on 29 June at 11:00 am and with the help from the kind locals, we were directed to a train that led us to our respective hotels.
On 30 June, Countess Bettina Bernadotte, President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings gave a welcome speech during the Opening Ceremony. The hall was filled with many Nobel Laureates and young scientists with whom I was able to socialise later during the Sunday Dinner. Prior to the dinner, all participants were invited to enjoy a concert performed by an Ensemble of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Stadttheater, Lindau which was just a walking distance away from Inselhalle. In both events I was able to know many young researchers from various countries. In fact, most of the scientists attending came from USA and Germany.
Then came the first day of the meeting (1 July), where we listened to lectures and Agora Talks given by Nobel Laureates that covered a wide range of topics such as nonlinear optics, ultrafast physics, Metric system, physics education, microscopy, material sciences and even biological science. After the lunch break, all participants attended an Open Exchange session where a Nobel Laureate could discuss any matters with the young scientists in a small room. There were altogether nine Laureates to be chosen from, and I selected Sir Konstantin Novoselov, whose work on graphene led him to win a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. At around 5:30 pm, one of our Malaysian friends, Ong Wee Jun, who was selected for the poster session, had to give a two-minute presentation on his research at Stadttheater. I attended the event to show my support. All participants were later requested to vote for three best posters and the winners will be awarded on the last day of the Meeting. On our way back to Inselhalle, we were greeted with a traditional African cultural performance. The dinner served later was hosted by the South African government.
In the days that followed, the programme resembled that of the first day, with lectures, Agora Talks and Open Exchange given by the Nobel Laureates. However, there were also special events such as Grill & Chill, Panel Discussion, Master Classes, Heidelberg Lecture and Bavarian Evening. Grill & Chill was an event where all the participants enjoyed a barbecue dinner together with the locals in Lindau. During the Panel Discussion, at least four speakers discussed a specific topic on the stage and the young scientists could ask them questions via the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting app. The topics discussed included dark matter (on the 2nd day) and Career in Science (3rd day). Master Classes were events where four pre-selected young scientists give a presentation of their research works followed by feedback given by Nobel Laureates.
On the 3rd day of the meeting, a Heidelberg lecture was given by Martin E. Hellman, a Turing Award Laureate who invented the public key cryptography, which is now used in protecting trillions of dollars in financial transactions every day. During the lecture, he used several personal life lessons to talk about how to accelerate our ethnical progress amid recent technological advances. The Bavarian Evening was our final dinner on the island, where we were entertained by the locals’ German cultural performances.
On the last day of the meeting (5 July), we embarked on a boat trip to Mainau Island. During the boat trip, we socialised with Nobel Laurates, young scientists, and some exhibitors who were present on the boat. The award ceremony for the poster session was also held on the boat. When we reached Mainau Island, we attended another two sessions:
- Tawakkol Karman in Conversation with Adam Smith Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work” and during the talk, she discussed current issues facing Yemen and the Middle East today.
- Closing Panel Discussion: How can Science Change the World for the Better? Speakers discussed the most important challenges the world faces today and, in the future, and how science could contribute to their solutions.
After the panel discussion, we headed for a picnic lunch followed by Conclusion and Farewell. At around 4:30 pm, we took the boat trip back to Lindau Island. The trip was the final chance for us to socialise with the Laureates and young scientists and not wanting to waste this opportunity, I talked to several Nobel Laureates about their latest research and socialised with other young scientists as much as I could.
Upon reaching Lindau Island, I waved goodbye to my Malaysian friends as I was not following them back to Malaysia. The last day of the Meeting may mark the end of their stay in Germany but for me, it simply meant the beginning of another adventure. I was selected to participate in the Baden-Württemberg Post Conference Programme held from 5 to 12 July, where participants were brought to many different cities within the State of Baden-Württemberg and given the chance to visit their universities and labs, in hopes that they may one day consider furthering their studies or starting their career in Germany. During the trip I had visited eight different German cities, six universities, three research institutes as well as several tourism spots, museums, restaurants and hotels, all sponsored by Baden-Württemberg International. The trip was truly an unforgettable experience. I was amazed by the beauty of the places I’ve visited as well as the state-of-art facilities in their universities, research institutes and labs. What made me feel privileged and blessed is that out of about 200 participants from all around the world who applied for the Baden- Württemberg Post Conference Programme, only 18 people were selected, and I was one of them. Each person must be of a different nationality and since only 18 people were selected, not all countries could have a representative. I feel proud that I could represent Malaysia.
On 11 July, we had our farewell dinner at Stuttgart and on the following day, I travelled back to Friedrichshafen to stay for one night before embarking on my journey back to Malaysia on 13 July.
Which Nobel Laureate(s) left the biggest impression on you during your time at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting?
The Nobel Laureate who left me the biggest impression was Professor Wolfgang Ketterle from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whom I had the chance to have a long conversation on our boat trip back to Lindau. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2001 for realising Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) using sodium atoms. I was impressed by his immense knowledge in quantum sciences and his ability to provide constructive suggestions and helpful responses whenever people asked him questions, be it about physics or other topics. His research is also very interesting: He uses ultracold atoms (and molecules) as the “LEGO bricks” to build new forms of matter, and recently, his team observed a ‘supersolid’ which is a bizarre form of matter having the properties of a solid and a superfluid at the same time.
Which sessions were the most significant to you?
I consider the “Closing Panel Discussion: How Can Science Change the World for the Better?” as the most significant session, which was held on the last day of the meeting on Mainau Island.
The moderator, Karan Khemka started the Panel Discussion with a provocative statement: he cited a paper presented by a group of Nobel prize-winning economists during the 2013 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which stated that although the percentage of GDP spent on scientific research and development has increased over the years, both wages and human productivity have decreased in the same period of time. Karan then went on to ask the five panelists, “Is science giving us a real bang for the buck?” The panelists, of course, defended science, as expected by many. Some said the economic problems are results of bad economics, not good science; some said GDP is still growing steadily over the years. Some questioned the ability of humans to really capture and measure productivity. Some claimed that sciences only provide the knowledge and it’s up to the engineers to decide what to do with it. The moderator also asked several other challenging questions to keep the conversation going and all panelists were actively involved in the discussion.
This session is considered the most significant one because it’s great to see the world’s greatest minds from various fields giving their opinions on such important matters. It is also interesting to listen to the perspectives of experts outside of the fields of physics and train us to be more open-minded towards different opinions. This session showed us how an open and fair academic discussion should look like: Equal opportunity for everyone to voice out their honest opinions in the most respectful manner, no matter how provocative or sensitive the subject matter may be.
How would you utilise the lessons learnt during this Meeting to enrich your career/research endeavours?
The lectures given by the Nobel Laureates were truly eye-opening as I was exposed to research projects I didn’t know existed. Their brave attempt to make possible the impossible with their brilliant ideas had inspired me to challenge myself more in my own research endeavours, as opposed to just fulfilling the minimum requirement needed to achieve my Key Performance Index (KPI).
I’ve also learned valuable soft skills, particularly presentation skills from both Nobel Laureates and young scientists from developed countries. Their presentation slides were very clean and tidy, easy to understand and straight to the point. Besides, I have also gotten the contacts of many young scientists who are interested to collaborate with me and built friendships that could last for a lifetime. I believe this Meeting will positively influence my research career and will yield good results in the long run.
I would like to extend my gratitude to Academy Science Malaysia, Ministry of Education, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Baden-Württemberg International for giving me this wonderful opportunity which left me an unforgettable experience. I’ve never travelled to Germany or any parts of Europe before yet in my first trip, I had already visited nine cities, six universities and three research institutes, met with 39 Nobel Laureates and 580 young scientists and stayed in eight different hotels, all free of charge. I have never felt this fortunate in my life and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than this.