20 Jul 2019


Representing Australia at the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting 2019

In the winter of 2019 I was one of the lucky students chosen to represent Australia and participate in the 2019 Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting. The topics of the year were awesome - cosmology, gravitational waves and laser physics. What a lineup.

So here is the Australian contingent, in a very sunny lineup outside the meeting venue. We requested slight cloud cover. It was not supplied.

Inside, the hall was amazing. Past initial kerfuffles with security (for example, having to wait half an hour whilst people turned on their laptops to prove they were, you know, real) there was the most amazing sight I think I have ever seen.

Multiple baskets of buttered pretzels. Proper German pretzels, oh my goodness. I am never going to come public with the actual number of pretezels that I ended up eating, because the number is higher than you think, regardless of your starting assumptions.

The schedule for Lindau was one of the most hectic I’ve ever seen, and all of us were left running from main talks, conference room talks, open forums, masterclasses and more - held not just at the Inselhalle but all over the island.

Of course, most of the memorable interactions are held over lunch or dinner - food being the key ingredient here. What was supposed to be a quick question to Brian ended up being an hour long adventure when William Phillips joined the party and gave us all a highly entertaining story of his work measuring (defining) the fundamental constants. I even got a little business card with them all printed out on it.

But I think of all the interactions, the dinner with Brian Schmidt and Steven Chu was probably the highlight. No rigid structure, just good food and good stories from Steven. For those not too familiar, Steven Chu was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for his work using lasers to cool and trap atoms. But of more interest to most of us was the time he spent as United States Secretary of Energy under Obama. In particular, hearing about the BP oil disaster from someone that was not just there, but intimately involved in the emergency response, capping the oil and the recovery was fascinating.

One thing Steven did that I find most remarkable has nothing to do with the government position. It was how he went straight back to research, no issues. I wonder if that’s helped by the Nobel Prize or not. I’ll ask him more about it next time we happen to bump into each other.