10. July 2023
"You can only attend once in a lifetime. Twice, if you win a Nobel Prize." With these words, the organisers welcome and inspire young scientists at the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Around 600 university students, PhD students and postdocs from countries all over the world get the opportunity to meet three to four dozen Nobel laureates. Two doctors from Lindau, Bavaria, came up with the idea in 1950. Their aim was to end Germany's scientific isolation and restore relations broken by the war. They received support from Lennart Bernadotte, a member of the Swedish royal family. The first conference was held a year later and was devoted to physiology and medicine. In 2022, chemistry reigned supreme. In this 71st edition, CEITEC BUT PhD student Lucie Kotásková was selected in a two-stage round.
What do you think the Lindau Meeting is about?
It is an international scientific forum that takes place in Lindau, Germany. Three scientific disciplines for which the Nobel Prize is awarded alternate, namely chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine. The main theme last year was chemistry, which is my field, so I applied. The essence of the meeting is to listen to lectures and seminars by Nobelists, to interact with them, to make new contacts with other students, and most importantly to get motivated and maybe inspired in some way. This is actually the official motto of the event: educate – inspire – connect. After the lectures, the laureates came among us, so we had the opportunity to talk to them. Often, however, this was not possible because such a crowd of people had formed around them that it was impossible to get to them. However, the overall impression, that is, that I had the opportunity to see the Nobel Prize winners and listen to their stories, the way they got to the prize, was priceless. I recommend it to everyone.
How did you feel there?
Very small (laughs). The meeting is supposed to be, at least I felt, first of all inspiring. And I think it was for all the participants, because when you listen to what the Nobel Prize winners have done and how long it took them to prove themselves right... Even they themselves had problems in the beginning to get to where they got to. People around them didn't believe them, and yet they went for it. It was really interesting. But I have to admit that not all the lectures caught my attention and "got me". Each one was a bit different because everyone had their own take on it. Some were more technical, others were more like: I came to tell you my story. So that mattered too, but it was still a great experience.
Did you know that something of this size was being organized?
I didn't know what it was at all and that it has been going on regularly since the 1950s. Although it has a long tradition, I only found out about it from my supervisor, Assoc. Prof. Ing. Petr Neugebauer, Ph.D., who participated in the Lindau Meeting years ago. He told me that I should sign up, that it was great and that I would enjoy it. And I did, but I hadn't heard of it before.
How do you explain that students don't know about it?
I honestly don't know. We were all told afterwards to talk about the event, to spread the word that something like this was happening. I would say that in the time and history that the conference has had, everyone must be aware of it by now. But they’re not. At least not in these waters. I can't explain why that is, but it's certainly a shame.
How did the selection process work?
The admissions process for the June '71 class began in September of the previous year. I needed a CV, a cover letter and a letter of recommendation. Everything is sent to the Academy of Sciences in Prague, which is the nominating institution for the Czech Republic. The Academy will select the Czech adepts who will go through to the second round. An evaluation committee appointed by the Lindau Meeting Council decides which of them will meet the Nobel laureates.
What are the evaluation criteria?
I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be selected. One of the criteria is publishing, but at that time I was not yet active in publishing. So I had a feeling that this might be detrimental to me, which in the end was not the case. In my CV I described what I had done and that I had won the Brno PhD. Talent. I think that might have helped me. I hoped that these benefits (competitions, internships, conferences) would compensate for my shortcomings.
How many participants were from the Czech Republic?
I was there with five Czechs and three Slovaks. But what was interesting was that not all of them were studying or working in the Czech Republic at the time. They came from different parts of the world, for example from Colorado, USA. So I can't say how many were sent by Czech institutions. We stayed together at the Lindau Meeting, so we met at breakfast. The official program started on Sunday and ended on Thursday. Friday was reserved for a trip and on Saturday we went home.
Which speaker impressed you the most?
I was looking forward to Ben Feringa, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. My PhD is on molecular switches, which we can include here too, so I was naturally interested in his talk and curious to see what he would talk about. The reality, however, exceeded my expectations. He was great. He approached the lecture differently than most of the other laureates, and above all, he is an amazing speaker. He talked about his journey to the Nobel Prize. He basically started from his birth and continued to the present. It was almost riveting at times, people applauded repeatedly during the lecture, he was interactive and immediate, he walked up and down the stage, and I would say that he captured the attention of everyone in the audience with his speech. He struck me as a terribly nice person. The presentations of the other laureates were also interesting, of course, but Ben Feringa really made a strong impression on me.
Did you talk to him?
I didn't get to him at all. After the lectures, the laureates still had seminars and each participant could choose whose seminar they wanted to attend. I attended his seminar, of course. There were so many people there that the room was bursting at the seams, some didn't even have a place to sit, and again, the immediate Ben Feringa even offered his chair to one of the attendees. His seminar was also an incredible performance and an unforgettable experience.
Did he inspire you in any way?
After returning from Lindau I was full of impressions, enthusiasm and motivation, because meeting Nobel laureates cannot leave any other impression on you. I believed that this enthusiasm would last as long as possible and I think it has.
Was your motivation reflected in any project?
That summer I was writing my abbreviated dissertation. So I basically spent a lot of time working out the theoretical and practical parts. I think I invested a lot of time in it because the thesis was quite long. I think it was caused by the reverberations of meeting the Nobel Prize winners.
Are you in touch with any of the people involved?
For example, I met a scientist there who is from Nepal but works in Germany. We basically went through all the lectures together from start to finish. Coincidentally, this year I am going to go on a short internship at the institution where he works. So we will probably meet again.
Did you have to pay anything, or was everything paid for?
I only paid my own travel, otherwise everything else like accommodation and food was provided by the organisers.
What do you study at CEITEC BUT?
Synthesis of organic compounds, which is not quite common here at CEITEC BUT. I synthesize molecules that act as molecular switches and bind stable organic radicals to them. The leader of our group (Magneto-optical and THz spectroscopy) has been involved in the development of magnetic resonance for a long time. Currently, together with other members, we are working on the implementation of electron paramagnetic resonance to achieve higher measurement sensitivity in nuclear magnetic spectroscopy. My newly prepared compounds can then be used, among other things, as polarizing agents for these pioneering purposes.