“Educate. Inspire. Connect.” This is the mission statement of the Lindau meeting, and this year’s meeting absolutely succeeded in fulfilling all three objectives. Here, I will tell some stories in a series of posts to illustrate some of the highlights of the meeting as they relate to these three goals of this meeting.
Serious learning is inevitable when you spend 12 hours in one week listening to lectures given by Nobel Laureates, who have made some of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time. Each Laureate who attended the meeting was given 30 minutes to give a lecture to the students and other conference attendees. Now, when one has won a Nobel Prize, he or she has earned the right to use that time slot to talk about whatever they deem appropriate. Most discussed the history behind the discoveries that led them to the Nobel Prize, with the right amount of self-deprecating comments about how lucky they were to achieve such success. Some went on to discuss the greater implications of their work and/or bigger problems that we face as scientists entering the next decades. As you might imagine, so many involved scientific lectures across all fields of medicine and physiology imparted a great deal of scientific knowledge, so much so that it became impossible to take it all in.
One lesson that will stick around for a long time came from Dr. Peter Agre, who discovered aquaporins, water channels within cellular membranes that regulate many important physiological processes. Instead of rehashing research that was performed years ago, he focused most of his energy on discussing his “second career” in research – he now studies malaria and has become a strong proponent for global health. He posed a challenge to the young researchers in the audience to consider using their talents to tackle some of the big problems faced by third-world countries, in which far too many suffer and die from illnesses that have been all but cured in the United States. I was lucky enough to sit with him at lunch after his talk with five other students and we asked him to elaborate on what he thought we as young scientists on the brink of choosing a career path could do to further such a cause. The final consensus after this lunchtime discussion was that global health-directed translational research is great if you are motivated to do it, but that basic science research with no obvious translational application is also an incredibly noble goal as long as you are curious, motivated, and passionate. What I took from Dr. Agre’s lecture and discussions is that as scientists, it is our duty to first have a desire to continually learn, and further to educate people around the world about the scientific process and about distinguishing truth from fiction.