What Nobel laureates are talking about | July 31, 2017 Issue - Vol. 95 Issue 31 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 31 | pp. 26-27
Issue Date: July 31, 2017 | Web Date: July 26, 2017

What Nobel laureates are talking about

More than 20 prize-winning scientists gathered last month in Lindau to share their views on research and life
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: Nobel Prize, Laureate, Lindau, meeting, Germany, Feringa
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Feringa told young scientists in Lindau to seek out scientific challenges.
Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Bernard L. Feringa speaking during the Nobel laureate meeting.
 
Feringa told young scientists in Lindau to seek out scientific challenges.
Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Every summer, the medieval island town of Lindau, Germany, is packed with tourists. But for a week every June, the historic spot, sitting on Lake Constance at the border of Germany and Switzerland, is a little quieter. This is when about 400 young scientists from around the world fill up Lindau’s conference center—rather than its cafés and day-tripper boats—to learn what they can from a gathering of Nobel laureates.

The meetings first began here in 1951 when two German physicians invited scientists from the rest of Europe for a symposium in an attempt to foster international research after World War II. With the backing of the Nobel Foundation, the meeting has continued annually but has evolved into an event designed to inspire young scientists.

More than 400 hand-picked scientists under the age of 35, nominated by academic partner institutes and organizations, arrived in Lindau this year to listen and learn from 28 laureates. Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine were on hand to give scientific lectures, guide tutorials, join in panel discussions, and answer questions posed by the young scientists.

Key topics discussed at this year’s meeting included how to use large data sets to describe or predict the structure and behavior of molecules; efforts in green chemistry to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and the amount of energy needed for chemical processes; and ways in which molecular machines could contribute to new materials, detectors, and energy storage devices. A fourth topic the laureates grappled with was science in an era of “post-truth,” when personal beliefs and emotions can have a larger influence on public opinion than objective facts can.

Themes that emerged during the laureates’ lectures and discussions included the potential benefits of researchers publishing their research in online forums before peer review. Both Martin L. Chalfie, a biological sciences professor at Columbia University who became a chemistry laureate in 2008, and Stefan W. Hell, director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry who became a chemistry laureate in 2014, advocated for young scientists to share their unedited work online via preprint servers. Their suggestions were met with extended applause.

The usefulness of automated chemical synthesis machines, such as the one reported in 2015 by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign’s Martin D. Burke (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa5414), also sparked debate among laureates on stage and young scientists in the audience. The attendees pondered whether such machines might one day take over the role of chemists.

As is traditional for the annual Lindau meeting, the event kicked off with a lecture by a new laureate. This year’s honor went to Ben L. Feringa, one of three scientists to be awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on molecular machines.

Feringa gave the young scientists in the audience a flavor of his research in the field of molecular switches and motors, pointing out how the molecular machines might one day be used in capsules that release drugs into the body or materials such as self-repairing car paint.

The newly minted laureate also offered career advice: “Always look for a challenge and find teachers who challenge you. Persevere, follow your intuition and your dream—but walk on two feet,” Feringa told attendees, encouraging them to listen but also to be independent.

Feringa wasn’t the only laureate offering choice quotes in Lindau. The following are other notable words of wisdom and observations from the award-winning scientists at the meeting.

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“Drug development is undergoing a major revolution—maybe the largest revolution medicine has ever been through. Until now, a drug was developed to treat a disease. Now we are moving to the development of a drug that is disease agnostic because we are just focusing on biomarkers.”—Aaron Ciechanover, 2004 chemistry laureate.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Aaron Ciechanover conversing during the Nobel laureate meeting.
 
“Drug development is undergoing a major revolution—maybe the largest revolution medicine has ever been through. Until now, a drug was developed to treat a disease. Now we are moving to the development of a drug that is disease agnostic because we are just focusing on biomarkers.”—Aaron Ciechanover, 2004 chemistry laureate.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
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“Beware when Nobel laureates say something cannot be done.”—William E. Moerner, 2014 chemistry laureate, referring to a prediction by 1933 physics laureate Erwin Schrödinger that single-molecule analysis could never be undertaken. Moerner won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discoveries associated with the study of single molecules.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
William E. Moerner speaking.
 
“Beware when Nobel laureates say something cannot be done.”—William E. Moerner, 2014 chemistry laureate, referring to a prediction by 1933 physics laureate Erwin Schrödinger that single-molecule analysis could never be undertaken. Moerner won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discoveries associated with the study of single molecules.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
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“Find an important subject that is not yet interesting to others; otherwise the big guys, with their big labs, will get there before you. Don’t go with the mainstream.”—Avram Hershko, 2004 chemistry laureate, discussing how he decided in the 1980s to investigate how cells get rid of abnormal proteins and degrade normal ones.
Credit: Christian Flemming, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Avram Hershko presenting during the Nobel laureate meeting.
 
“Find an important subject that is not yet interesting to others; otherwise the big guys, with their big labs, will get there before you. Don’t go with the mainstream.”—Avram Hershko, 2004 chemistry laureate, discussing how he decided in the 1980s to investigate how cells get rid of abnormal proteins and degrade normal ones.
Credit: Christian Flemming, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
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“What I would like to see: artificial photosynthesis, sodium[-ion] batteries, understanding brain chemistry in molecular detail in real time to determine what we are.”—Richard R. Schrock, 2005 chemistry laureate, during a panel discussion of “game changers” in chemistry.
Credit: Alex Scott/C&EN
Richard R. Schrock answers questions on stage.
 
“What I would like to see: artificial photosynthesis, sodium[-ion] batteries, understanding brain chemistry in molecular detail in real time to determine what we are.”—Richard R. Schrock, 2005 chemistry laureate, during a panel discussion of “game changers” in chemistry.
Credit: Alex Scott/C&EN
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“The peer review system has its limitations. But it's about the best system we have. Prepublication is an idea that in my view is very powerful. Don't let someone else decide on the content [of a study] or the timing of it. Prepublish it and let the people decide.”—Stefan W. Hell, 2014 chemistry laureate.
Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Stefan W. Hell poses at Nobel laureate meeting.
 
“The peer review system has its limitations. But it's about the best system we have. Prepublication is an idea that in my view is very powerful. Don't let someone else decide on the content [of a study] or the timing of it. Prepublish it and let the people decide.”—Stefan W. Hell, 2014 chemistry laureate.
Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
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“When you do basic research as a chemist, it is highly satisfying when that chemistry is finally used.”—Jean-Marie Lehn, 1987 chemistry laureate, on the use of biocompatible polymer implants by medical device firm Xeltis. Lehn is on the firm’s scientific advisory board, and the polymers are based on his earlier work.
Credit: Alex Scott/C&EN
Jean-Marie Lehn smiles while conversing with meeting attendees.
 
“When you do basic research as a chemist, it is highly satisfying when that chemistry is finally used.”—Jean-Marie Lehn, 1987 chemistry laureate, on the use of biocompatible polymer implants by medical device firm Xeltis. Lehn is on the firm’s scientific advisory board, and the polymers are based on his earlier work.
Credit: Alex Scott/C&EN
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“It is clear now that most scientists who talk about climate change in this fashion [claiming that it is not caused by humans] know virtually nothing about climate change.”—Mario J. Molina, 1995 chemistry laureate, on the 3% of scientists who reject the notion of anthropogenic climate change.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Mario J. Molina on panel during the Nobel laureate meeting.
 
“It is clear now that most scientists who talk about climate change in this fashion [claiming that it is not caused by humans] know virtually nothing about climate change.”—Mario J. Molina, 1995 chemistry laureate, on the 3% of scientists who reject the notion of anthropogenic climate change.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
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“Perhaps 40 or 50% of all pharmaceuticals on the market relate to [mimicking or blocking] cell signaling messages. … So it’s been a gold mine for drug development and discovery.”—Ferid Murad, 1998 physiology or medicine laureate, who discovered in the 1970s that nitric oxide is a key messaging substance in the human body.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Ferid Murad converses with meeting attendees.
 
“Perhaps 40 or 50% of all pharmaceuticals on the market relate to [mimicking or blocking] cell signaling messages. … So it’s been a gold mine for drug development and discovery.”—Ferid Murad, 1998 physiology or medicine laureate, who discovered in the 1970s that nitric oxide is a key messaging substance in the human body.
Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
 
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