Alaina G. Levine was live from the Lindau conference
My week at Lindau, #NerdHeaven, was in a word, sublime. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed speaking with all the different people it draws, including Nobel Laureates, early career scientists, journalists, and representatives from foundations and governments the world over. I learned so much about so many different areas of science and society. I gained so much from the experience. And now that it has come to a close, I feel like crying in my streuselkuchen.
Nevertheless, it’s over, and I’m left to is relive some of the best moments.
On Wednesday, Vint Cerf, Vice President at Google and one of the fathers of the internet delivered a lecture of the history, future and legacy of the internet.
His talk was elegant and educational and entertaining, but most of all, it explained exactly how the internet works in a straightforward, non-technical manner.
Cerf was there in an exchange program with another conference – the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), is in its fourth year and aims to do for mathematics and computer science what Lindau does for physics and other Nobel disciplines. At the HLF, coming up this September, winners of the Fields Medal, Abel Prize, ACM Turing, and the Nevanlinna Prize come together with young mathematicians and computer scientists from around the world. For the first time, the HLF sent Cerf to speak and, in September, the Lindau organizers will send a Nobel laureate to speak at the HLF.
The Nobel castle
When, on the last day of the conference, we traveled to Mainau (which, like the island of Lindau, is located in Lake Constance) and Dr. Jurgen Kluge, a physicist and Chairman of the Board of the Lindau Foundation, addressed the group in one of the final speeches of the science summit. As we sat across from the castle owned by the family who launched Lindau, Kluge shared how Lindau continues to grow and innovate. And then he asked the chipper crowd, “Did you enjoy it?” Yes! Did you make new friends? Yes! “Do you want to come back as Nobel Laureates?” Yes!
New science and 90s tunes
When Brian Schmidt concluded the conference in the courtyard of the castle on Mainau and reminded the audience that, as young scientists, this is the best time to be doing science – most of the Laureates received their Nobel Prize for work they’d completed as young scientists. And then ended the whole affair by simply stating “The world is truly in your hands.”
Afterwards, on the boat ride back to Lindau, a band played only the finest 80s and 90s tunes (including everyone’s fav, Sex Bomb). While the young scientists populated the dance floor, a few Laureates joined in on the fun and started boogying with the future Nobels.
All of these are classic Lindau moments. These are moments that are both formal and informal, at pre-arranged lectures or during impromptu conversations. They all demonstrate the civility that exists between scientists and those who are passionate about science. They show how science acts as an international connector. These are just a few; really there are too many to count.
And speaking of counting, one of my favorite moments was my chance to interview Countess Bettina Bernadotte, whose family is responsible for Lindau. The Countess, who grew up on Mainau and is a member of the Board of the Foundation and the president of the Council for the Lindau Meetings, sat down with me for an interview so I could learn more about the history and future of Lindau.
Here is that interview, which has been edited for space and clarity.
AGL: Can you explain the history of Lindau and how your family became involved?
CBB: The goal of the first conference was to link the German medical community back to the international science community. Born as a Swedish prince, my father later lived on Mainau and his two co-founders of the meetings thought involving Nobel Laureates would be a good idea. So the first meeting became reality. There was a lot of work, because there was no internet where you could look up an email address or find all the Nobel Laureates. In 1950, they began inviting everybody and the first meeting was held in 1951.
Can you discuss how your family came to Mainau Island?
My father first came to Germany in the 1920s because his grandmother owned Mainau and she was very interested in gardens and parks. He made Mainau a home base in the 1930s. During World War II, he went back to Sweden with the family. At the end of the 1940s, he came back and lived ever since on Mainau.
So because your father was a prince, he had connections with the Nobel Prize Foundation?
He always had this perception that if you are born with a special background, you have the duty to do something meaningful with it. So for him it was very easy to find out who the right person was to talk to, and he managed to get the Nobel Foundation interested. The meeting began connecting German scientists after isolation with their international colleagues. Then my father thought, in addition, it would be good to bring in the youth to make it an intergenerational dialogue. And this is how he got involved much more, because this is something that meant a lot to him. By 1953, the meeting included scientific youth.
What did that mean to him to see it grow to what it is today?
He was fascinated by it. He passed away in 2004 at age 95. In the last years, he couldn’t participate. My mother and I were involved a lot. But when the subject of Lindau came up, I could see him wandering back in this thoughts, remembering how the first years were – sometimes not knowing in the spring if the meeting would take place in the summer because financing was so difficult, and having to struggle with all the organization. It meant a lot to him that the meetings were still going on. It really made him very happy.
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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