By Kate Secombe, with input from Young Scientists Nicole Foster, Sarah Lau, Dr Wenyue Zou, Dr Eugene Sackhou, Dr Ifrah Abdullahi, Dr Emily Kerr, Dr Adam Sutton and Australian delegation leader and Academy Fellow Professor Cheryl Praeger.
This year, 11 Australian early-career researchers were selected as Young Scientists to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting in Lindau, Germany. While the in-person meeting has been postponed to 2021, we were able to attend the Lindau Online Science Days (28 June–1 July 2020) and a hackathon-style online Sciathon instead. There’s a saying that unless you are a Nobel Laureate, you can only attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting once—so we feel lucky to have had the unique opportunity to participate twice! We would like to thank the Australian Academy of Science and the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) for supporting our participation.
Our 2020 Lindau experience started with the Sciathon. Over a 48-hour period, small groups of Lindau alumni and Young Scientists worked on solutions to problems under two themes: ‘Capitalism after coronavirus’ and ‘Communicating climate change’. Congratulations to Dr Eugene Sackhou, whose group was the winner of the climate change category! His project worked on a big data approach to target effective influencers of climate change communication.
The Sciathon was a great opportunity to learn from our peers and utilise our new-found remote working skills with people from all around the globe. As Eugene remarked: “Interdisciplinary aspects of these global issues and possible interdisciplinary solutions were cornerstone to this event, and this resonated with me a lot. This showed me that, as a physicist, I can actually contribute to solving global issues such as climate change. In fact, working on the climate change problem during the Sciathon definitely broadened my understanding of the issue and invoked a lively interest in this area.”
For three long days stretching well into the early Australian morning, we were treated to a variety of online debates, conversations and lectures by Nobel Laureates, as well as Young Scientists and alumni. In addition, live Q&A sessions, expo booths and networking features allowed us to speak with our peers and Nobel Laureates alike. This year’s Lindau meeting was scheduled to be interdisciplinary, bringing together Nobel Laureates and Young Scientists from chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine. The Online Science Days continued that trend, with a huge breadth of content for everyone.
Amongst our group, the clear stand-out Nobel Laureate talks included Professor William D. Phillips’ presentation on the metric system. While I must admit I had not previously put a lot of thought into the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the metric system, learning about how things are measured and defined was more than enough to keep me awake at midnight on a Tuesday. Professor Francis Arnold’s presentation won many fans with her wide-ranging discussion that concisely and elegantly described the directed evolution of enzymes, for which she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2018.
One of the important things I took from these lectures and conversations was the opportunity to think on a broader scale about how and why we do science, what could be improved and what is good about our work. It was a brilliant experience to hear Nobel Laureates speak freely about more than just their research. It was motivating to hear about their career path, their advice for young scientists and their own struggles with imposter syndrome.
Many of us found the Women in Science panel session and the following Q&A particularly useful. Dr Ifrah Abdullahi noted that some uncomfortable discussions took place about the real challenges women face in science and academia, such as navigating parenthood as an early-career researcher. However, the helpful tips and great encouragement were very useful. Academy Fellow Professor Cheryl Praeger also appreciated the frank comments about the role of privilege in this conversation.
As an interdisciplinary meeting encompassing many scientific fields, plenty of good science communication was required during the Online Science Days. In addition, the specific topic of public communication of science was addressed. As Nicole Foster described: “The phrase that has stuck with me most was made by Professor Steven Chu when speaking about the politics of climate change. He said, ‘We are all in this together’, which aligned well with a statement by Kailash Satyarthi: ‘This is the time to globalise compassion.’ I am feeling more optimistic about the future after this meeting knowing there are people out there that emanate these values.”
Dr Adam Sutton also highlighted the role of science communication when you are seen as a role model. “One of the Nobel Laureates in the ‘Communicating climate change’ debate said that when communicating science, the message should be what is most important; not trying to present and explain all the facts. This resonated heavily with me.”
The Online Science Days also imprinted our important role as young scientists: to act as voices for change in the world. Eugene stated, “Nobel Laureates and influencers are of course the heavyweights and the major driving force; however we are vital connections that get those major ideas delivered and spread locally, in all places all over the world. As part of the Lindau community, we are the links between Nobel Laureates and those who don’t have this privilege to directly interact with Nobel Laureates and to embrace their wisdom.”
I think it is safe to say that we are all so excited to attend the in-person meeting in Lindau. We have already made connections with scientists from across the world this year. Dr Wenyue Zou said the Online Science Days have been an excellent preparation for next year’s meeting. She mentioned that while Nobel Laureates can be seen as ‘gods in science’, the Online Science Days have shown them to be intelligent, kind and humorous people who are eager to share their career highs and lows with us as young scientists.
Once again, thanks to SIEF and the Academy for the opportunity. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings are an amazing opportunity to not only meet Nobel Laureates, but to learn about ground-breaking science and increase our skills in combating misinformation and communicating our work to the public. We’ve enjoyed getting to know each other and are so excited to be attending Lindau in person next year.
To watch recordings from the Lindau Online Science Days, visit Mediatheque.
© 2024 Australian Academy of Science