Alaina G. Levine is live from the Lindau Conference
As I mentioned yesterday, even after I switched my major to mathematics from physics and astronomy, I couldn’t quite turn my back on this field. I’ve come to realise that there is a specific reason for this, and I think you’ll agree: Physics is like The Godfather – once you’re in, you can’t get out. Our knowledge of the universe, from the yotta to atto, is all tied to physics. Our entire existence is described by physics. You can’t get more powerful than that. So clearly, it’s is an entrancing field, and like the Godfather, there is literally no way to escape – you’ll die a member of La Famiglia de Fisica.
So when I was seduced by the dark side and pursued a major in maths, I still, both literally and figuratively, remained in physics – I conducted research in astrophysics, I did physics outreach, I was the president of the Society of Physics Students at my school, the University of Arizona. I even began my career in science communication with a job as the director of communications for the physics department at my alma mater. To this day, I still write extensively about physicists and physics.
When you participate in Lindau, you’re caught in a sea of scholars who are in the same energy state, in that they love, love, love physics too. And all members of La Famiglia admit the hold that it has on them, and are thrilled and honoured to serve their Godfather.
The Nobel Prize winners and early career scientists with whom I had the chance to speak all share a devotion to The Godfather and it was interesting to see the different ways in which it manifests at the conference itself. Here are a few highlights from day two:
A prize from a prize winner
Over the years, I have interviewed Nobel Laureate Bill Phillips (Physics, 1997) a few times, including on my last trip to Lindau in 2012. Phillips is such an interesting fellow and he absolutely loves coming to this meeting. So it was with a sense of delight when, during his formal talk on Tuesday, 28 June on “Superfluid Atomic Gas in a Ring: A New Kind of Controlled Circuit”, he grinned at the audience and encouraged them to come up to him throughout the week and ask questions. And if they do , he’ll hand out a prize. My mind jumped to the obvious – would it be the Nobel Prize? Because, you know, that would be sweet.
But no, he had something else in mind. The 2014 Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) recommended values of fundamentals of physics and chemistry to the wider scientific community. Say you’re in a jam and need to know exactly what a mole or kilogram is – we’ve all been there. Well, Phillips’ present came in the shape of a card that will provide this important info. What a perfect present for all the physicists in the room!
The junction of Josephson and Phillips
While Phillips was giving an overview of his work, he mentioned the role of Josephson junctions. And then he ambled away from the podium to point out Brian Josephson himself, sitting in the front row. He asked Josephson how old he was when he did his Nobel Prize winning work –“I was 22,” Josephson answered. Ha! Younger than many of those in the audience, Phillips said, to a wave of laughter. Can you imagine giving a lecture about your research and having the guy who discovered the critical element that made your work possible sitting casually in the audience?
Posits from posters of posters
For the first time in its history, The Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting gave students and postdocs the opportunity to participate in a small poster session. Approximately 30 scholars gave poster presentations on a diverse swath of physics research. The event was attended by Nobel Laureates, creating even more invaluable networking opportunities.
Chillaxing with the Yankees
On Tuesday evening, various delegations of students and postdocs from the participating nations at this conference held dinners across the town. I was privileged to be able to attend one – that of the American delegation, which at 38 participants is one of the largest nations represented here. Like many delegations, American physicists who wish to attend Lindau must apply for a travel fellowship and participation in the conference through a central mechanism.
The physicists travel together to Europe, and have various events together so they get a chance to interact with each other and improve their networking skills. At the dinner, I had a chance to chat with a diverse cross section of young scientists, including those who are studying electrical engineering, medical physics, volcanology, condensed matter physics and crystallography, and mechanical engineering. And per usual, sprinkled in the crowd of hungry young minds, were a number of Nobels, including Steven Chu, who, according to the students at his table, discussed his experiences in being rejected for grants. That’s one of the beautiful things about this conference – the Laureates are just as eager to give the early career scientists advice about how to be successful as they are to give advice about how to deal with failure. And why not? This is Lindau. This is #NerdHeaven.
Alaina G. Levine is a science writer, science careers consultant, professional speaker and corporate comedian. She is the author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), which was named a top 5 Book of 2015 by Physics Today. Contact her via her website or follow on twitter.
The author expresses appreciation to the organizers of the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings for a partial travel fellowship to attend.
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