June 30, 2013

Arrival in Lindau and Awesome in Hours

Waking at thirty thousand feet, an orange sun and silver clouds awaited my gaze out the port window, a magnificent backdrop for the thought: I’m in Europe for the first time.

We, the seventy young researchers of the US delegation to the Lindau Meeting, finally land at Zurich international airport. Everyone is excited and the adventure of our young careers has begun, founding friendships with some the best from the US.

It was lightly raining, really a good mist. The mist somehow catalyzed the realization that this is real, I’m actually going to Lindau, and I am so lucky to be a part of this opportunity to interact with the movers of our little planet. 

The bus ride through the Swiss, then Austrian, and finally German countryside towards Lindau was invigorating, with light raindrops dragging sideways across the windows, as Josh and I call out cars – Dude, an Audi S4 ... Wow, an M5 ... No way, a Firebird, lol! But as we drew nearer to Lindau, rays of sunshine pierced through the diffuse clouds, just as our bus passed along the bridge connecting the island town of Lindau to the mainland.

Welcome to the 63rd Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates.

So what was my first experience at Lindau? Upon arrival and in a matter of a few, outgoing hours I met a tiny but wonderful sample of the spectrum of diverse young, fellow scientists here at Lindau: Nathalie from Belgium who studies supramolecular chemistry at South Hampton (UK); Sergio from Italy and I discussed how the local ducks managed to build large, floating nests. I was smiling and everyone was smiling back.

lindau 2
Later on, I was off to meet Martin Freeth (formerly of the BBC and currently with Nature publishing). Five exceptional people vied, vigorously at times, for three seats at a table to talk about what’s wrong with drug discovery with Nobel Laureates Brian Kobilka and Ada Yonath. There, I met Janet from Canada who studies virology at Heidelberg (Germany) and taught basic German phrases to Stephen and I; Stephen from Stanford; and Rene, a PhD student in the Philippines and native of the Philippines who studies natural plant products native to his home as potential new, potent drugs.

Blue skies meet me on my first morning in Lindau

After an amazing, hearty traditional German breakfast, it was off for a little adventure. On Sunday in Lindau, essentially everything is closed. It felt like John, Amy, and I owned the place, until we managed to make our way to the harbor, where a vintage car show was taking place. Parked under a perfect morning sun, abreast the old harbor of Lindau were classic Mercedes convertibles, Porsches, Bimmers, MGs, the lot. And all of them were in pristine condition. Not a bad way to start the day.

While I found out I won’t be participating in the Lindau Nature video with Laureates Kobilka and Yonath, I am being considered for writing a piece, perhaps in collaboration with a Laureate, which would be published with Nature. That would be awesome!

At the end of this sensational, breathtaking morning, I wondered how it could get much better. How much more memorable could the day become?

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At the opening ceremony of the Meeting that evening, I tried to arrive early to get a good seat. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person thinking the early bird sits next to the Laureates. Calling on my street smarts, I slide past the long line of people, spied a VIP-looking section of four seats next to the stage, walked smoothly, smiling past the security and took a seat. Actually, it wasn’t sneakiness that won me the best seat in the house (with three other Americans following my lead). Rather, it was Stony Brook smarts. Thus, for the opening ceremony, I was sitting less than one meter from the Countess Bettina Bernadotte. She was beautiful. The ceremony was beautiful. The vibe was beautiful.

Ok, things can’t get much cooler than that, right?

After meeting and chilling with Professor Walther Kohn for a few minutes while we were leaving the Inselhalle, I attended the Microsoft Fellows Discussion at the Lake Lounge, Hotel Helvetia. Overlooking a peaceful Lindau Harbor, our table of young researchers, among six tables, included young researchers from Turkey, France, UK, and US. Dorothee Belz, Vice Chairwoman of the Committee Economics and Politics in the European Economic Senate and VP Microsoft Europe prompted us to answer some important questions. The first, “what is the sociopolitical impact of the Internet,” was profound. Our group, led by myself, responded, “The Internet, via cell phones and social networks is making democracy a democracy again.” Indeed, the Arab spring, which now seems to have stretched its spirit all the way to Brazil (note that my mom is from Curitiba, Brazil), arose from social networks that were born from the Internet. A camera crew was there, and a cell phone passed from table to table as each group presented its responses to the questions. My fellow young researchers and I believe it was Bill Gates on that phone.

What will tomorrow bring? A full day of science at the highest level, an unprecedented, unparalleled experience in fellowship and knowledge spreading, curiosity and discovery, is what I can expect, given the awesomeness thus far.

… kevin eduard hauser

Photo captions:

Top: Young researchers at Lindau City Square. I am at left.
Middle: Vintage car show at Lindau Harbor, the start of the Lindau Klassic race.
Bottom: The US host an international dinner at the Inselhalle restaurant on Sunday evening.

June 27, 2013

Legends in Lindau: A Meeting of Nobel Laureates and Young Researchers

My name is Kevin, I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University, and I research at the Laufer Center under the direction of Professor Carlos Simmerling. What are we researching? The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology describes the directed flow of genetic information -- that is, genes are transcribed into messages that are translated into proteins. Some of these proteins, in turn, regulate this flow of information. To understand how proteins do this, our research aims to develop a model of the forces driving the dynamics of protein and DNA structural flexibility and the mechanism of protein-DNA binding and recognition.

Why am I traveling to Lindau, Germany, a picturesque town on Lake Constance, the surface of which reflects the nature of Swiss and Austrian mountains? Upon reflection, that’s a good question.

Here’s the quick answer. I will participate in the 63rd Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates, this year dedicated to Chemistry. 35 Nobel Laureates and 600 participants like me from 78 countries will be there – part of an awesome opportunity to expand scientific and personal perspectives by interacting with great people in a beautiful place.

The mission of the Lindau Meetings, according to the Lindau Foundation, is to “educate, inspire, and connect (leitmotif).” The Meeting, depending on the year, can be dedicated to Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Economics, or Chemistry. Last year it was physics; poetic given the Discovery of the Higgs Boson was announced while the Meeting was taking place.

The Meeting is sponsored by some big names in Industry like VW group, Mars, and Microsoft, to name a few. Countess Bettina Bernadotte drives the Meeting. And I, like many people, am grateful for her. Also, big US agencies are sending their best and brightest – the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy (yes, Nobel Laureate and former scientific adviser to President Barack Obama Steven Chu will be at the Meeting).

What are my preliminary thoughts on the Meeting? Based on good bit of reading, the Meeting is a superlative event for young researchers to participate in the scientific and social dialogue that can drive progress and change.

On the science side, I will attend one of three Master Class sessions where young researchers have the opportunity to present their research to a Laureate. I won’t be presenting; only one American won the chance to present at a Master Class. I will attend the Master Class New Frontiers in Deciphering Mechanisms of Diseases and in Drug Development led by Nobel Laureate of Chemistry Aaron Ciechanover, Distinguished Research Professor Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Professor Ciechanover won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Professor Avram Hershko and Professor Irwin Rose
"... for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation." – Nobel Foundation, 2004

I am also being considered to take part in a special, small group discussion with Nobel Laureates Ada Yonath, The Martin S. and Helen Kimmel Professor of Structural Biology at the Weizmann Institute and Brian Kobilka, Professor of Molecular & Cellular Physiology at Stanford. I hope to debate the outlook of how to approach drug discovery. The plan is for the discussions to be caught on camera and ultimately published by Nature on its website.

Professor Ada Yonath, along with Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Professor Thomas A. Steitz, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009
"... for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome." - Nobel Foundation, 2009

Professor Brian Kobilka, alongside Professor Robert J. Lefkowitz, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012
"... for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors." - Nobel Foundation, 2012

On the social side, students from 78 countries will be participating - a positively spectacular opportunity to meet, make friendship, and to cultivate relationships with people to develop networks and collaborations for new dialogue. I firmly believe that heterogeneity in ideas, beliefs, and backgrounds – social and scientific – will lead to a better future; a future that is more conscious of nature and profitable as such, ethical, advanced in technology and culture, and pleasant to live in. The Meeting thus represents the opportunity for me to be at the front of this future and help steer its driving forces.

What does the opportunity to be at the Meeting mean to me? The Meeting is obviously a great honor and privilege for me. This will be a great chance to learn from some of the brightest people on the planet –Nobel Laureates, young researchers, and other attendees. I expect to enrich my perspective by interacting with a diverse and talented group of people. The past ten years have seen tectonic shifts in science and society – what will the next decade hold? I hope to help answer that question, or at least understand it, at Lindau.

How do I think the Lindau Meeting will change my career? Well, I can’t predict the future. But I do plan to learn as much as I can. I hope to chat with really bright people over a range of topics: the evolution of the relationship between computer simulations and experiments; how we can integrate a more diverse population into the voice of science, the goals of science, and the future of science; how we may better discover drugs; how we can deal with global challenges in sustainable, balanced ways; and how we can reinvigorate the relationship between science and society (science is awesome, didn’t you know?) As in life, it’s all about having friends. At Lindau, I hope to make new and awesome friends.

Where is science going? New perspectives from diverse backgrounds are keys to the future. At Lindau and among the finest minds on Earth, I will experience new ways of thinking that enhance my research and my life. Let’s do this.

… kevin eduard hauser
Stony Brook University, NIH NRSA Fellow, PhD Candidate, 2013