Ein Sommer voll Wissenschaft

By Senne Starckx,

Belgian science journalist

28.08.2015 Heidelberg, Germany, 3rd Heidelberg Laureate Forum 3. Heidelberger Laureaten Forum Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/HLF

Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, summer doesn’t equal with relaxing on the beach or hiking in the mountains.

Since a couple of years I always try to have some blank space in my agenda in the last week of June and the first week of July. That’s because I know this is the time of the year for my annual ‘retreat’: one week amongst the brightest and most inspiring minds of the planet, amidst the beautiful surroundings of little charming Lindau and the magnificent Bodensee.

I don’t lie when I’m saying that by now I’ve become a regular of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The last edition, which was held from 28 June until 3 July, was already the fifth one I participated in. The highlight of my stay – which again was bathed in the summer heat of this sunny part of Germany – was a long interview with François Englert, the Belgian physicist who won the Nobelprize in 2013 for his discovery of the Higgs boson. This year the Meeting was dedicated to the ‘Interdisciplinary’ sciences – a clever excuse of the organization to choose and invite the most interesting people from all scientific areas. For a science reporter this is a goldmine: as interdisciplinary means that everything is connected with everything, it’s much easier to find interesting stories that are no too detailed, specific or complex for a lay public.

Although I have been in Lindau several times, I’m always struck by the organizational perfection of conferences like the Nobel Meeting. Wherever it’s a plenary lecture, an arranged interview or a social event, everything really breaths German Gründlichkeit. And no to forget tradition. While the economic crisis has cut deeply in many institution’s budgets, removing conferences’ garnishing like good food, enjoyable gatherings and entertaining and inspiring side events, this is not true in Germany. The organizers of the Lindau Meeting seem to live in another universe, where tradition and continuity with the past are more important than the hype of today.

Last August, I went to Germany again, for a similar meeting: the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, which took place in Heidelberg from 22 until 29 August. The Forum is similar to Lindau because also here the brightest minds in a specific field of study are invited: mathematics and computer science – in which there are no Nobel Prizes to win. The laureates that are invited all have won the Fields Medal, the Abel Prize (mathematics) or the Nevanlinna Prize (computer science). Another difference with Lindau is that this event is rather young: the last Forum was only the 3rd edition.

One of the absolute stars of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum – of all three editions – is Vinton Cerf, vice-president of Google and nicknamed ‘the chief evangelist of the internet’. It’s really inspiring to hear him speak, not only about the past – Cerf was one of the fathers of the internet – but especially about the future. Many hot potatoes, like privacy, net neutrality, big data and artificial intelligence. For reporters covering these ‘new tech’ subjects, the Forum is a must to attend.

Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/HLF