Alaina G. Levine is live from the Lindau conference
In 2012, I flew across the pond from the deserts of Arizona to the shores of Lake Constance on the German/Austrian/Swiss border. I wasn’t on holiday per se, but I might as well have been. When I arrived in the tiny hamlet of Lindau, Germany, I was met with two very sweet offerings: spaghetti ice cream and hundreds of nerds swarming the island town. I couldn’t have been happier.
The nerds weren’t there by chance or for the cylindrically-shaped eis. And they weren’t any old kind of nerd. These were my peeps, my homies, my besties. They were physics nerds and they were there for a unique celebration of all things physics: the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings in physics.
Every year since 1951, the community of Lindau plays host to this conference in which Nobel Laureates in a particular subject are invited to give talks, and students and postdocs from around the world are invited to attend and network. This year’s Lindau Meeting attracts 400 students and postdocs from 80 countries, and 29 Nobel Laureates.
Four years ago, when I first participated in the conference, I dubbed this amazing conglomeration Nerd Heaven because that is exactly what it is. Can you imagine hearing 29 Nobel Laureates give talks and then having the chance to chat with them for the rest of the day? Wouldn’t you describe this as Nerd Heaven too?
This conference is very meaningful to me. My degree is in maths but I started out as a physics and astronomy major. Even though I switched to the dark side, I never could find it in my heart to fully abandon physics, and now I write and speak on career and research topics centred around physics and physicists. So the chance to attending Lindau the first time was candy for my soul and when the physics meeting cycled back around, I couldn’t contain my hunger for another opportunity to go.
Meanwhile, here’s a recap of some of my favorite moments from yesterday’s star-studded opening ceremony and today:
A Nobel welcome
Our conference kicked off with an address from Countess Bettina Bernadotte, president of the Council of Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings (and accompanied by the President of Austria), whose family first initiated the Lindau Meetings three-score-and-six-years ago. She noted the importance of this meeting for networking, which forced me to jump out of my seat with glee, especially given my penchant for supportive networking. You’ll see this week, I’m sure.
Talks by Nobel winners David Gross, on 100 Years of General Relativity – The enduring Legacy of Einstein; and Martinus J. G. Veltman, on After Finding the Higgs Particle managed to be both informative and light hearted. They not only communicated the important science but also showcased their own love of the subject. My favorite line from Veltman was his description of a quote by Feynman about his famous diagrams – he noted that when Feynman spoke of his Feynman Diagrams he said all he did was invent a new form of bookkeeping.
A panel discussion with mostly participle physicists discussing Beyond the Standard Model. This included a live stream from leaders at CERN including the director general of CERN, Fabiola Gianotti. Favorite lines here were from Steven Chu, the former Secretary of Energy in the United States, who said that it would be tragic if we didn’t build a 100 TeV collider; and David Gross, who shared that he believes it’s incumbent on the human race to build the next high energy collider. Gross casually stated that he is a fan of colliders, which made us all chuckle. I’m a pro-collider myself, so it was great to see a kindred spirit at work on the stage.
We still have only 4 days left of conversations, classes, collaborations, and celebrations of the theme of Educate-Inspire-Connect. So stay tuned for more tomorrow.
But for now, let me leave you with what I truly believe is a quintessential only-at-Lindau moment. It took place during dinner tonight, after we took a boat across Lake Constance to get to Austria. Yes, we went to another nation for supper.
Anyway, we sat by the water and sang happy birthday to 1999 Nobel Laureate Martinus J. G. Veltman. That’s right – the scientist celebrated his 85th b-day today and 400 nerds just wished him an alles Gute zum Geburtstag across the lake from Deutschland. 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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