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Chemistry cruise

Nearly thirty Nobel laureates discuss, cruise and enjoy good food – a doctoral candidate from Freiburg was along for the ride

Freiburg, Jul 13, 2017

Chemistry cruise

Foto: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobel laureates and junior researchers from all around the globe have been meeting each year in Lindau on the shores of Lake Constance since 1951. It's a way to promote scientific exchange between generations and cultures. This year's meeting was dedicated to chemistry. A doctoral candidate at the University of Freiburg, Pierre Spreider, took part in the event. Lars Kirchberg asked him what it was like to spend time with chemistry's superstars.

All aboard! The week ended with the traditional boat trip from Lindau to Mainau. Photo: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Herr Spreider, describe the week you spent in Lindau for me.

Pierre Spreider: All-in-all, 28 Nobel laureates and 420 junior researchers from more than eighty countries were at the meeting. Mornings were reserved for presentations by the Nobel prize winners. Of course they spoke about the focal points of their research, but they also said a great deal about their scientific careers. In the afternoons, small groups of junior researchers could ask questions, and during the evenings, social events were on the agenda. The week concluded with the traditional cruise from Lindau to Mainau. That really made an impression on me. We were all dressed up and the food was outstanding.

Not everyone gets to go to Lindau. How did you get one of the treasured invitations?

I'm a fellowship recipient of Germany's Chemical Industry Association, the VCI. Each year, it nominates ten people from among its fellows to take part in the meeting of Nobel laureates. Five are then selected to take part. I have to admit, before that I didn't even know there was such a meeting. They told me that taking part was like hitting six straight figures in Lotto, all the more so because the chemistry conference only takes place every four years.

How did it feel to spend time with the greats of science?

At first it was quite daunting. I kept thinking, how do you behave with a Nobel laureate? How do you address them? But after a few days things loosened up, and you could see that Nobel laureates are people, too. Or as they said themselves, people who were in the right place at the right time.

"Like hitting six straight figures in Lotto:" Pierre Spreider was the only doctoral candidate from Freiburg who took part in the meeting of Nobel laureates. Photo: Patrick Seeger

Who did you most want to meet?

I was really looking forward to meeting Ei-ichi Negishi, Bernard Feringa and Richard Schrock. There's the most overlap with them in terms of my work. In my research I rely on a reaction that was discovered by Richard Schrock. Beyond that, the meeting was interesting for me professionally. I even had a beer with Bernard Feringa.

Did the conference contribute to your future?

I need to rethink my career planning. Until recently, I was convinced my path would take me into industry. But at the conference I experienced how important good scholarship is for society in general. Now I am no longer categorically ruling out a career in research. I was able to make a few contacts and found that the cultural diversity really brought me a great deal.