My Journey with the Giants of Science: The Lindau Spirit

The 72nd Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting, held in Lindau, Germany, aimed to appreciate and celebrate the scientific achievements of laureates in Physiology and Medicine. For me, this experience went beyond understanding scientific wonders; it revealed the essence of the human spirit. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young scientists like me to share our inquisitive pursuits with fellow scientists and laureates. Without any expectations or prior knowledge of how these meetings unfolded, I found myself meeting numerous talented, intellectual, and witty young scientists from around the world (representing 89 different countries!). It became clear that our presence at the event served a greater purpose than simply attending another conference. The shared understanding of this unique experience formed the foundation of our interactions.

Frances H. Arnold – 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry & Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, United States of America (left) lecture on opening day (right) sharing a light-hearted conversation with young scientists.

The opening ceremony, filled with excitement, featured a musical concert by the incredibly talented Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Countess Bettina Bernadotte, the Lindau Council President, delivered a welcoming speech. One of the most memorable moments for me was when Frances H. Arnold, the 2018 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, gave a talk titled “Innovation by Evolution: Bringing New Chemistry to Life.” about her own journey into the world of enzymes from the perspective of an engineer, her transition into scientific policymaking, the challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and the responsibilities that come with being a scientist. Hearing such a personal account from a distinguished laureate was not only new but also deeply inspiring. However, the laureate talks were just the beginning.

The Lindau program encompassed various levels of discussions, including Agora Talks, where young scientists actively asked questions to a panel of laureates on specific topics. Panel Discussions provided contrasting perspectives on ongoing global and scientific issues, with audience interaction. Science Walks/Laureate Lunches allowed casual interactions between a laureate and a group of ten young scientists as they strolled through the beautiful streets of Lindau or shared a meal. Personally, my favorite events were the Open Exchange sessions, where laureates freely exchanged ideas, shared stories, and answered sometimes controversial questions from young scientists, all without the presence of journalists.

The following days were filled with a plethora of fascinating panel discussions, including one that left a vivid impression on me: “Artificial Intelligence and Medicine.” Nobel Laureates Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko, and Michael Levitt, along with the 2018 ACM Prize Laureate Shwetak Patel explored the potential of AI in addressing complex challenges in global healthcare, particularly in developing countries. The implementation of AI algorithms was discussed, along with their complementarity with traditional solutions, and the need to protect data privacy while ensuring excellence in model building. This discussion made it evident that regardless of our chosen career domains, we would all face interesting and challenging outcomes when bringing AI-driven solutions to healthcare. Another important talk I attended was delivered by Emmanuelle Charpentier on the role of CRISPR-Cas9 and its potential as a versatile tool for biomanufacturing, screening, and treating severe human diseases. The application of the CRISPR-Cas system in medicine is still being explored, and scientists and medical professionals constantly strive to uncover new ways to leverage this tool.

Onto the future: (Left) Emmanuelle Charpentier discusses the role of CRISPR-Cas9 in the future of therapeutics and screening with young scientists (right) Shwetak Patel recounts the development of mobile phone-based disease screening platforms for global deployment.

Amidst these intense discussions, we took a break and enjoyed a delightful “Grill and Chill” event at Toskana Park in Lindau. We relished an assortment of Bavarian and German food, including the best Bratwurst I have ever tasted, while enjoying fine wines and finer company of the laureates (who were also chilling). The lovely sunny weather added to the joy of the evening as we engaged in conversations ranging from science to culture and got to know each other better. Some of us young scientists took the opportunity to explore the town further, discovering classic Italian gelatos, visiting the local museum’s Andy Warhol exhibit with original sketches (a must-see for those in Lindau before October 2023), and strolling along the vibrant streets by the Lindau harbor, which offered glimpses of the Swiss and Austrian coastlines. One of the most significant experiences for me was the Science Walk with Michael Levitt, during which I had the chance to openly discuss career decisions, including transitioning between research fields and industries, the importance of peer networking, and creating a supportive environment. It was a crucial realization that many young scientists face similar challenges and seek solutions through mentor relationships and peer support.

Meets, greets, and streets: (Top & Bottom Left) View around the colourful harbour of Lindau; (Top Right) Meeting other Marie Curie Actions fellows from all over the world; (Bottom Right) Exploring the Andy Warhol Exhibit (thank you Lindau council!)

As the meetings neared their end, we celebrated a Bavarian night dinner event with traditional Bavarian dances and music. Many young scientists proudly wore their native dresses. During the dinner, I had the privilege of conversing with Shwetak Patel, the 2018 ACM prize winner in computing and Google Health, about the complexities of integrating AI in diagnostics. I shared my own experiences from working in healthcare startups in India, where I focused on identifying low-resource solutions for public health, such as combating antimicrobial resistance and continuously monitoring chronic inflammation. We discussed the challenges I faced when incorporating AI into wearable diagnostic devices and how major tech companies currently leverage innovative solutions for public health in developing countries. We also emphasized the importance of niche microfluidic diagnostics, which is the focus of my current work in the SIMPPER project. As someone from India who has witnessed these challenges first-hand, I recognize the potential of AI-enabled diagnostics and hope for a future with more solutions than problems in the realm of public health in developing countries.

On the final day, we embarked on a cruise ship to Mainau Island, located on Lake Constance, where the borders of Austria, Switzerland, and Germany meet. The island felt like something out of a fairy tale, with its breathtaking gardens boasting rich flora. I was inspired by the fact that the local community played a crucial role in maintaining this beauty. On Mainau Island, we engaged in an enlightening Panel Discussion on “Climate Change and Implications on Health” before bidding farewell during the closing addresses by the organizing council.

The final day at Mainau Island: (Left & Bottom Right) Humbling gardens of Mainau; (Top Right) Party time on the cruise ship back to Lindau

As the Lindau meetings came to an end, I was left overwhelmed by enriching encounters, passionate discussions, and meaningful conversations (I even got interviewed on livestream with comedian Brian Malow!). I returned with a renewed focus to contribute to the development of accessible global healthcare solutions. Challenges to progress in research will always arise, whether in the form of fleeting funding, difficult environments, or unfavourable outcomes after years of hard work – some being man-made systemic challenges, while others being inherent to the nature of scientific pursuits. This realization highlighted the value of a high-quality network, forging the right relationships, and supporting one another through collaboration. These factors are essential not only for discovering new research avenues but also for pushing the boundaries of science itself.

(Recordings of Agora Talks, Panel Discussions and Lectures are available at the Mediatheque hub for public access – I highly recommend to watch to get a fuller experience)