Talking to Torsten Wiesel: lessons in science

Perhaps the highlight of the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting for me was meeting Torsten Wiesel who, together with David Hubel won the Nobel Prize in 1981 for their discoveries on the response properties of neurons in early visual cortex. Wiesel gave a talk in which he gave an overview of his work with Hubel. There wasn’t much time left for discussion that afternoon, but Jolien and I had the chance to talk to him in person the day after, on a very sunny terrace overlooking for Bodensee. Here’s some of the lessons I took from our conversation. Tip of the day: a short email requesting a meeting can really make your week.

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Peeking over the shoulders of giants

I spent last week in Lindau, at the beautiful Bodensee in the south of Germany. I had the honour to be one of 600 young scientists invited to the 64th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Physiology or Medicine, a fantastic chance to meet 37 Nobel Laureates in the field and get a huge boost of inspiration and enthusiasm for doing science. The week was too full for a complete overview, so I’ll restrict this post to my personal highlights of the week. If you feel jealous that you didn’t know about this meeting or had to miss out, don’t panic; the Lindau Mediatheque collects video recordings of most talks.

In 1951, two German physicians convinced the count of Lindau to start inviting Nobel Laureates and students to their island for a week of discussions and talks. The main goal of these first meetings was to rebuild German science and strengthen international collaborations which had suffered during the war. During the 64th meeting this year, the focus on Germany is long gone. Young scientists from 80 countries, working in fields from psychology to physics and oceanography to stem-cell biology, came to Lindau to meet 37 Laureates in Physiology or Medecine (although some won their prize in chemistry and physics). The Laureates were the big stars of the meeting, and rightly so – the brightest minds should in my opinion be honoured like all football players and pop singers of this world together. Continue reading