Plantas muy ‘humanas’

En su último libro, titulado “Qué sabe una planta” Daniel Chamovitz, doctor en biología y director del Centro de Biociencias de la Universidad de Tel Aviv, nos revela que las plantas pueden sentir el entorno, tomar decisiones ‘inteligentes’ y  comunicarse unas con otras a través de un sorprendente lenguaje químico.


La genética de las plantas no es tan diferente de la del ser humano. En una entrevista publicada en Scientific American, Daniel Chamovitz explicaba: estos (descubrimientos) me han llevado a darme cuenta de que la diferencia genética entre las plantas y los animales no es tan significativa como yo ingenuamente había creído una vez. Así que, mientras todavía no estaba investigando este campo, ya comencé a cuestionarme los paralelismos entre las plantas y la biología humana.

Y añadía: las plantas tuvieron que desarrollar mecanismos sensoriales muy sensibles y complejos que les permiten sobrevivir en ambientes cambiantes (…). Ellas necesitan ver dónde está su comida; necesitan sentir el clima y ser capaces de oler los peligros. Y  tienen que ser capaces de integrar toda esta información de forma dinámica y cambiante. El hecho de que no vemos a las plantas moverse no significa que su mundo interior no se rico y dinámico. Y a enseñarnos eso dedica Chamovitz su último libro,  “Qué sabe una planta”, a mostrarnos ese mundo interior rico y dinámico de estos seres vivos.
Cada capítulo está dedicado a explorar las similitudes entre los sentidos humanos y los de las plantas. Así, vemos que el primer capítulo, titulado “Lo que ve una planta”, comienza de una forma provocativa con esta afirmación: “Piensa sobre esto: las plantas pueden verte.” En este capítulo se explica cómo las plantas pueden distinguir entre los diferentes tipos de colores. También encontramos páginas dedicadas a explorar las similitudes entre el resto de los sentidos  humanos. El autor afirma que las plantas pueden sentir y diferenciar los distintos aromas o que también tienen sentido del tacto, porque saben cuándo son acariciadas.
Acacias que ‘ganan’ a antílopes
De la misma manera que los telescopios ampliaron nuestra visión del universo, las investigaciones de este tipo nos permiten abrir la concepción que tenemos de la mente, de los sentidos y de la conciencia.  En este sentido, el trabajo de Daniel Chamovitz no es el único.  Hay muchas personas en diferentes países, y desde diferentes campos, que llevan años investigado ese mundo interior dinámico y rico de las plantas.
Stefano Mancuso es una de ellas. Ingeniero agrónomo y doctorado en biofísica, desde su laboratorio situado cerca de Florencia (Italia) estudia, junto con un grupo de colaboradores, lo que hasta hace muy poco tiempo era una pregunta más del mundo de la alquimia que de la ciencia moderna: ¿tienen las plantas alguna especie de sistema nervioso capaz de transmitir información y un cerebro capaz de procesar esa información y dar respuesta inteligente a los problemas? Sabemos que las plantas son capaces de sentir el entorno. De hecho, según Mancuso, siente más que algunos animales. “Cada ápice de la raíz puede detectar simultánea y continuamente por lo menos 15 parámetros químicos y físicos. Es algo que los animales no pueden hacer”, señaló.
Sabemos, que esa información viaja desde los ápices hasta las hojas más lejanas. Esta afirmación la confirmó el profesor Stanislaw Karpinski, quien  afirmó, en una reunión de la Society for Experimental Biology’s en Praga (República Checa), que cuando se ilumina una sola hoja, toda la planta recibe esa información. Lo cual confirma, que esa información es transportada en forma de señal electroquímica  por células que actúan como un  sistema nervioso.
Pero eso no es todo lo que una planta puede hacer. El profesor Mancuso explicaba en una entrevista al periódico “La  Vanguardia”: cuando una planta es atacada por un patógeno, inmediatamente produce moléculas volátiles que pueden viajar kilómetros, y que avisan a todas las demás para que preparen sus defensas. Lo que significa que  las plantas pueden comunicarse entre ellas de una forma muy eficaz.
Uno de los mejores ejemplos, añadía el biofísico, fue el ocurrido en Botsuana. “Hace diez años, en Botsuana introdujeron en un gran parque 200.000 antílopes, que comenzaron a comerse las acacias con intensidad. Tras pocas semanas, muchos murieron y al cabo de seis meses murieron más de 10.000, y no advertían por qué. Hoy sabemos que fueron las plantas.”

Si lo analizamos esto noticia cuidadosamente; nos daremos cuenta de que fue una respuesta muy compleja. Según estos datos, las acacias sintieron el peligro y respondieron a éste produciendo unas moléculas con la información adecuada, que emitieron al entorno. Las otras plantas tuvieron que detectar esas moléculas e interpretar correctamente el mensaje para construir una defensa adecuada.  Una protección que se basó en modificar su propio organismo, concentrando gran cantidad de tanino. La conclusión más lógica es que actuaron de esta manera para defenderse de los antílopes y, por lo tanto, con intencionalidad. Si la intencionalidad es, según la psicología, uno de los atributos de la conciencia, esto nos lleva de vuelta a la pregunta central del libro de Daniel Chamovitz: ¿tienen conciencia las plantas?
Cierta inteligencia animal
Y, aunque hoy día nos parezca sorprendente, esta misma pregunta se planteó hace siglos sobre las mujeres o sobre otras etnias. Con el tiempo, se llegó a admitir lo obvio y, un poco más tarde, nos preguntamos lo mismo sobre los animales. Se observó que, algunos, como los  primates, son capaces de utilizar herramientas, tienen un lenguaje y pueden  comunicarse entre ellos. Además emplean estrategias de defensa y de búsqueda de alimentos y se organizan para cuidar y enseñar a sus crías. Y, después de estos trabajos de investigación, se llegó a la conclusión de que, efectivamente, los animales, algunos más que otros tienen un cierto tipo de inteligencia.
En el mundo de los  insectos encontramos cosas sorprendentes. Las arañas, por ejemplo, son un caso excepcional en el campo de la ingeniería y de la química.  Un grupo de científico de la Universidad Técnica de Múnich (Alemania) ha descubierto que la tela de araña es cinco veces más tensa y fuerte que el acero y tres veces más que las mejores fibras sintéticas. Otros insectos, las hormigas y las abejas, además de ser capaces de construir grandes dispositivos arquitectónicos como son las colmenas con pasillos, sistemas de ventilación, control de temperatura y humedad, además tienen lo que ahora llamamos habilidades sociales, es decir, saben llevarse bien.
Pero, ¿qué hay de las plantas? La respuesta del propio Mancuso en una entrevista, realizada por Eduard Punset, nos puede ayudar a encontrar la respuesta adecuada.
“Si ahora analizamos el organismo en su conjunto, yo diría que la diferencia entre las plantas y los animales no es una diferencia cualitativa sino meramente cuantitativa: lo único que cambia es la cantidad. Si hablamos de inteligencia, la cantidad de inteligencia es baja en las plantas, pero sí que existe. Si hablamos de velocidad, de tipo de movimiento, también existe en las plantas, aunque a una escala distinta.”

Será la conciencia, al igual que el movimiento, la inteligencia o la memoria, una cuestión de cantidad.  El Premio Nobel de física, Erwin Schrödinger, mantiene que la conciencia, al igual que la atención, es de ese tipo de cosas que se da en grados. Así, en su libro “Mente y Materia” afirma que “existen grados intermedios entre lo puramente consciente y lo totalmente inconsciente“. Para ello, observemos nuestro nivel de conciencia. A veces somos conscientes de que tenemos rodillas, corazón o pulmones pero, la mayor parte del tiempo, somos completamente inconscientes de su existencia. Incluso cosas tan vitales como respirar, caminar, e incluso, conducir, comer o hablar por teléfono lo podemos hacer con poca, mucha o de forma totalmente inconsciente. Por tanto, entre estos dos extremos, lo puramente consciente y lo totalmente inconsciente, existen una infinita graduación.
Necesaria reflexión
El siguiente paso ahora es un misterio. Tampoco, en su momento, sabíamos a dónde nos iba a llevar aceptar que la Tierra no era plana, o que el Sol era el centro de nuestro sistema, por no hablar de la Teoría Cuántica o la de Relatividad. Como decía el matemático francés, Henri Poincaré, “dudar de todo o creerlo todo son dos opciones igualmente cómodas, pues tanto una como otra nos eximen de reflexionar”. Y la ciencia debe investigar, hacer experimentos, recopilar datos y, sobre todo, reflexionar.
Sabemos que no solo la conciencia se da en grados, sino que la inteligencia, la creatividad y la voluntad, también. No hace falta recordar que hay personas más creativas, más inteligentes y con más voluntad que otras. Incluso sabemos que nuestro nivel de creatividad, de inteligencia y de voluntad fluctúan fluctúan a lo largo de nuestra vida: hay épocas, por ejemplo, en las que somos más creativos que otras.
Con nuestra atención ocurre lo mismo. Y esa es la razón por la cual, las clases en institutos y universidades, no deben de durar más de 50 minutos. Lo cierto es que, si trasladaremos el movimiento de nuestras cualidades mentales a una gráfica, se parecería mucho a la que describen los sismógrafos durante una erupción volcánica. Así que, en esto, sí podemos llegar una conclusión general: todos los atributos de la mente se dan en grados, y así existen en la naturaleza.
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A Practitioner of Quantum Chromodynamics and Classical Ballet

Meet Letícia Palhares, 27, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Name: Letícia Faria Domingues Palhares
Age: 27
Born: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nationality: Brazilian and Portuguese
Current position: Postdoctoral scholar, State University of Rio de Janeiro
Education: Bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
What is your field of research?
I investigate different aspects of nonperturbative quantum chromodynamics, from the mechanism of confinement in vacuum to the different phases of matter under extreme conditions of temperature and density, as found in the early universe, ultra-relativistic heavy-ion collisions and ultra-compact stars.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
What brought me to physics in the first place was the desire of continuously learning new things and in some sense my choice of research area also reflects this, since the study of nonperturbative quantum chromodynamics media is a very interdisciplinary topic, requiring usage of tools from statistical mechanics and quantum field theory combined with phenomenological knowledge of particle and nuclear physics as well as analogous condensed matter systems.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I see myself as a university professor in Brazil always keeping my desire of investigating new topics at the edge of scientific knowledge as well as re-learning from a different perspective basic and classical results while teaching and guiding students.
Who are your scientific heroes?
I do not have specific heroes, but whoever made me (or allowed me to) admire the beauty and complexity of yet another aspect of nature felt like a hero for me at that moment.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
A hobby that has been mostly present in my life since early years and that I value a lot is classical ballet. This is an activity that exercises mind and body in a different way and helps me to reset my thoughts when I need it the most.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
The Lindau Meeting is a unique opportunity to acquire a rich picture of nature as viewed by the elite of physics. More important than to accumulate specific knowledge, the close contact with the vision of Nobel winners of their fields is extremely inspiring for a young researcher, like me, who is starting to build their own approach to scientific questions. Also, the diversity of areas enhances the experience of contrasting different views, identifying alignments and experiencing the complementarity of various successful scientific approaches. I hope to leave Lindau inspired by the examples and vision of Nobelists, carrying a broad and rich picture of physics and how it should be pursued.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
Even though it will be extremely interesting to have contact with Nobel winners from my field of research, like [Martinus J. G.] Veltman and [David] Gross, I am particularly interested in comparing visions of Nobel winners from very different domains and approaches, theorists and experimentalists.

Trapping Cold Atoms with a Laser Lattice to Create Artificial Crystal Structures

Meet Claire Thomas, 24, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Name: Claire Thomas
Age: 24
Born: Louisiana, USA
Nationality: American
Current position: PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Boston University
What is your field of research?
My research is on ultracold atomic gases in an optical kagome lattice. Optical lattices are created by overlapping multiple laser beams so that their intensities form an interference pattern. We then trap cold atoms at specific locations in this interference pattern, thus experimentally realizing a well characterized, controllable and defect-free artificial crystal structure.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
In my field I am able to do my own calculations, come up with new ideas and pursue them on a time scale that is reasonable and fun. My research group is very flexible and we determine our tasks and goals daily. This is not a feature available in many large scale experiments.  I was first attracted to large scale experiments because of the beauty of the science that they seek to explore. I have, however, very much enjoyed my work on smaller scale experiments, where I believe that I can still study fundamental physics.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years I expect to be thirty-four. I will be a scientist, but it is almost impossible to say where science will be at that time so I cannot imagine my options and certainly not my choice. I hope to be up to date on whatever technology is in active use, to know how it works but to still go backpacking without it. I hope to teach my nieces and nephews how radios used to work when there were only a few circuit elements and they were all visible to the naked eye.  I hope that by then one of them will ask why the sky is blue and take interest in the answer.

Who are your scientific heroes?
Lise Meitner, Nikola Tesla, Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I enjoy rock climbing, backpacking and cycling in the Berkeley hills.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
The Lindau conference offers a unique opportunity to expand my understanding of the physical world, as well as the experimental and theoretical tools that we use to explore it.  I look forward to discussing with physicists from all disciplines and traditions to expand my concept of the ways in which physics can be done.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet?
Ivar Giaever and Brian Josephson. William Phillips, whose prize was for slowing atoms with a Zeeman slower, a tool in my lab that makes my research possible. I’d like to hear his current thoughts on the field of cold atoms and Bose Einstein condensates. Paul Crutzen: on his experience in the interplay between science and politics, and how to not be discouraged by the slow moving process of bureaucracy. Dan Shecthman: discovered quasicrystals, and when he did so people did not believe him. That sounds like an experience I would benefit from hearing about.

Tracing the Evolution of the Universe

Meet Minnie Mao, 26, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting


Name: Minnie Mao
Age: 26
Born: Melbourne, Australia
Nationality: Australian

Current position: Postdoctoral researcher at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico
Education: Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of Tasmania; PhD candidate, University of Tasmania

What is your field of research?
I want to know how galaxies have formed and evolved since the beginning of the Universe.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
It was almost accidental actually. I was enamoured by the night sky as a kid and didn’t ever seriously consider (or realise) astronomy was something one could do for a living. I actually made the mistake of thinking I’d be a lawyer when I grew up! Half-way through my science/law degree I participated in the Summer Project Program at UTas and learned about radio telescopes. I never went back to finish my law degree

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully sitting in the control room of the Australian Telescope Compact Array analysing data from the earliest black holes. (I hope they still let astronomers observe at the telescope – it really is the most wonderful learning experience literally seeing a project progress from the acquisition of the data itself.) I would love to know how giant black holes appear to exist within the first billion years of the Big Bang – despite models for giant black holes suggesting they require billions of years to grow.

Who are your scientific heroes?
I love Richard Feynman’s books Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman and Six Easy Pieces. I strongly believe that the ability to communicate science is as important as the science itself – how can society benefit from a science result if it isn’t conveyed? Richard Feynman was not only a brilliant scientist – he was also a brilliant conveyer of science.
What is your dream experiment?
If I had unlimited resources I’d go searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life. It seems statistically unlikely that we’re the only “intelligent” life in the Universe. The detection of extraterrestrial intelligent life would certainly change the way we view ourselves, and a non-detection would put serious limits on the desire or ability of extraterrestrial lifeforms to communicate with us.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I really enjoy being outdoors and exploring new places. I recently learned to scuba dive and absolutely love it. (Then I moved to the middle of New Mexico, which isn’t exactly known for its diving).
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
I’m attending Lindau to hear the stories of the Nobel Laureates. I want to know how they decided upon their field of research. Did they realise how significant their science would be or did they merely burrow deep into a science question that was driving them mad?
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
It’s probably rather trite, but I am excited to learn from all the Nobelists who are attending this meeting – I suspect they’re all very interesting people with fascinating stories. Having said that, I would be particularly excited to meet the discoverers of the cosmic microwave background’s anisotropies, John Mather and George Smoot. Their discovery basically cemented the big bang theory. I am also terribly excited to meet and learn from Brian Schmidt – his work on type Ia supernovae led to the discovery that the expanding universe is accelerating.

Predicting What New Physics Will Look Like

Meet Andrea Thamm, 24, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Name: Andrea Thamm
Age: 24
Born: Rostock, Germany
Nationality: German
Current position: Ph.D. student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne and CERN
Education: Master of physics with Honors Mathematical Physics from the University of Edinburgh
What is your field of research?
I am working in theoretical high-energy physics, more specifically on beyond the Standard Model phenomenology. We try to extend the current description of particle physics to describe the properties of the elementary particles more precisely, and we check what signatures these models would have in an experiment.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
I am very fascinated by the way mathematical equations can explain nature, and I’ve always wanted to understand more. My topic is quite theoretical and needs relatively advanced mathematical concepts to describe the properties of the elementary particles and their interactions. However, it’s still close enough to reality and to nature to describe observables which can actually be measured and prove a theory right or wrong. I like the idea to learn and reveal more about the building blocks of nature.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
If I manage I would really like to continue doing research. The field is so broad and the learning process very slow and I really want to understand more. It’s an exciting time for high-energy physics since the LHC just started running and there are many years of data taking ahead. This will for sure shed new light on some long-standing fundamental questions and I would love to be part of it.
Who are your scientific heroes?
There are a few people who I admire for their curiosity, creativity and stamina. My very personal hero, however, is my granddad, who has worked in physics all his life with a never-ending enthusiasm to understand just a bit more about the world we live in. Over the years he developed a very broad knowledge and ability to tackle problems. I would be very happy if I can keep my enthusiasm just as he does.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I have played the piano for 15 years. Right now, it’s not so easy to find the time and, more importantly, a piano, but I’m trying to play more again and come back to it. I love dancing and reading, writing and the sea.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
The meeting provides a unique chance to meet so many Nobel laureates in such a stimulating environment. Not only will the opportunity to meet such successful personalities and to attend their lectures and seminars be very inspiring for my own research career, it will also open one’s eyes to a wide spectrum of open questions in many different areas of science. Besides the lectures and the scientific program, it will be a great opportunity to meet other young researchers from all over the world, to discuss and talk, learn about science, cultures and languages. It is always very motivating and a lot of fun to stay in such an enthusiastic environment, exchange ideas and find new friends.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
Yes, I’m looking forward to meeting Martinus Veltman!

Working on Small Scales to Solve Huge Energy Challenges

Meet Vinamrita Singh, 25, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Name: Vinamrita Singh
Age: 25
Born: Haryana, India
Nationality: Indian
Current position: Ph.D. student, Department of Physics and Astrophysics, University of Delhi, India
Education: Bachelor’s degree, master’s degree from University College, Kurukshetra University, Haryana, India
What is your field of research?
The study of electrical and optical properties along with degradation and aging of organic bulk heterojunction photovoltaic devices.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
Beginning my career as a processing geophysicist led me to closely observe and experience the oil and gas industry. During this period, I also witnessed the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This close proximity with the business of non-renewable energy resources was the motivation behind my choice of research area, and led me into the field of renewable energy.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself continuing research even after 10 years. The way research requires one to think, hypothesize, experiment and then analyze the findings really inspires me. I have devoted two years to the study of organic solar cells, and while studying I feel that there is still a lot of potential in these devices in the future. I would like to further explore more possibilities in this field itself, and want to significantly contribute to the use of flexible solar cells on window panes, clothes and as paints.
Who are your scientific heroes?
René Descartes: He not only significantly contributed in mathematics, but his philosophy also interests me. Albert Einstein: He is one scientist who I find an all-rounder. Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who has successfully played a role as a leading scientist and President of India.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of research would you conduct?
My dream study is related to oceanography. The Earth is more than 75 percentwater, but only 1 percent of the oceans have been studied due to technological limits of going deep under water. If I get unlimited resources, I would like to work on the exploration of ocean beds and the different forms of life that exist down there.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
Some of my hobbies and interests are dancing, writing articles, photography, stick-figure animations and reading novels.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
Getting to attend the Lindau conference will not only give me the opportunity to be up to date with the ongoing advancements in research, but will also direct my vision to various other possibilities through which I can add new dimensions to my research. Any session related to my area of interest would definitely be beneficial as I could gain new concepts and implement them in my work. I anticipate this to be an event for pure exchange of knowledge at an international level that would diversify the mindsets of young researchers to meet the growing demands of technological and scientific growth. It would be an achievement if I could distribute the gain of knowledge and techniques in our lab to other researchers around me. I would be very delighted to get the opportunity to hear the lectures and life experiences of Nobel laureates, which is a very rare and important chance.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
I consider it to be a great opportunity to meet any of the Nobelists. In particular, I would like to meet Prof. Albert Fert because he is related to nanotechnology and in my work I make use of nanomaterials. I would also like to meet Prof. Paul Jozef Crutzen as his work on atmosphere and environmental studies is very crucial, especially when the world is getting more and more polluting due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

A Multilingual Condensed Matter Theorist

Meet Simone Hamerla, 27, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Name: Simone Anke Hamerla
Age: 27
Born: Essen, Germany
Nationality: German
Current position: Ph.D. student, Technical University of Dortmund
Education: Prediploma, diploma from TU Dortmund
What is your field of research?
I am working in condensed matter theory in the field of strongly correlated electron systems. At present my work focuses on fermionic systems driven out of equilibrium by a quench, i.e. a sudden change in the intrinsic system parameters. I study the dynamics of the system after an interaction quench, where the interaction between the particles is suddenly switched on, by the use of a semi-analytical method.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
I came to physics as I love solving puzzles and the idea that you can understand certain aspects of everyday life with your work. It is great that physics always provides puzzling observations that prove that you do not at all understand nature.
As non-equilibrium systems are in highly excited states, a description of their dynamics imposes totally new requirements on the theory, which aroused my interest in these setups.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Within the next 10 years I hope to gain an insight in the processes which are relevant for the relaxation of systems out of equilibrium. One of my goals is to understand by which means the thermalization is influenced and by which method these processes are described best.
Who are your scientific heroes?
I cannot state a single name here as my scientific heroes are spread over the whole area of physics.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
Dancing (Latin); languages: German, English, French, Latin, Chinese and Japanese.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
Due to its casual atmosphere the meeting represents a unique chance to get to know the personalities behind the greatest accomplishments in physics. In my opinion the meeting is the ideal platform to discuss their achievements, current problems and aspects which have to be considered when further pursuing our research.
On the other hand one meets young scientists from all over the world and different disciplines. I think with our different backgrounds we can inspire each other and gain a new insight on physics. Thus the meeting provides an ideal breeding ground for new ideas.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
I am of course especially interested in meeting the Nobelists working in my field. There are for example Prof. Dr. Theodor W. Hänsch and Prof. Dr. William D. Phillipswho laid the foundation of experiments with ultracold atoms. Ultracold atoms are the perfect testbed for the non-equilibrium systems that I study.

A Passion for Early-Universe Cosmology and Epic Bike Trips

Meet Laurence Perreault Levasseur, 24, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Name: Laurence Perreault Levasseur
Age: 24
Born: Quebec City, Canada
Nationality: Canadian
Current position: Ph.D. student, University of Cambridge
Education: B.Sc. (Hons) and M.Sc. from McGill University
What is your field of research?
I am interested in early-universe cosmology, in particular in how the study of the earliest moments of the universe can give us a better insight about fundamental physics. My current research interests are focused on the mechanisms for generating the primordial fluctuations and on preheating/reheating. Recently I have also been interested in theories of modified gravity, such as Galileon theories, and their application to models of the early universe.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
From as far back as I can remember, my favorite question of all has always been “why?”. An inextinguishable curiosity about the world around me, and a deep feeling of awe as I was discovering it, has always lived in me. I have always been fascinated by the mysteries of the universe, by the perfection and beauty of nature. Throughout my academic formation, I learnt that theoretical physics was the path I should take to seek answers to my questions. Very fast, my fascination for the origins of the universe and its enigmas have drawn me toward cosmology, in the hope of getting a deeper understanding of some of the most fundamental questions.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d really love to have the opportunity to dedicate my time and energy to the branch of science that I am pursuing now. I’d like to be a full-time researcher at a research institution and be actively involved in research and also teaching. I also really hope that I can start an international program through which pure sciences could be spread to the parts of the world with less opportunities for such fields. I have started this path by taking part in a teaching abroad program this summer where I teach physics inflation and early universe cosmology to undergraduate students in developing parts of China. In the long term I hope I can motivate the scientific community to take united measures to actively spread and promote pure sciences to developing regions of the world.
Who are your scientific heroes?
Hubert Reeves has definitely had a lot of influence on me wanting to become a physicist during my teenage years. He is a now-retired nuclear physicist from Quebec who wrote a lot of popular science in French, and is very famous among French Canadians. Reading his books were definitely very inspiring and made me believe it was possible for someone like me to become a leader in science at the international level, if I was aiming far enough.
Marie Curie and Emmy Noether are also role models for me, first simply because they are females in a highly male-dominated field and opened many doors at a time when there were very few opportunities for women, and second because they are world-recognized experts who have had a gigantic impact in their respective fields and in science in a more general sense.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I am an avid biker. I particularly like traveling with my bicycle, and usually I go for epic adventures. For my first journey, two of my friends and I went from Montreal to Florida in one month, for a total distance of about 3,000 kilometers, with nothing but three bicycles, a tent and camping material, little money, and a lot of enthusiasm. The year after I traveled in Italy for a summer school in Trieste and I brought my bike along. I went for day trips in Slovenia, and after the school I went from Bologna to Nice in France and back. Last year I went in biking in Belgium and Germany, and this year I will go around Portugal. My big and crazy dream is one day to travel from Paris to Beijing on my bike. We’ll see how that goes, and if I manage to do it before I turn 80 years old!
Apart from that, something a bit less extreme that I like to do is cooking. I love spending my Sunday afternoon making my own bread while listening to the radio (I am very old fashioned for that!), baking some banana cakes for my husband, preparing some good dishes for the week and trying lots of new recipes and tastes.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
Throughout my career, I have learnt to appreciate the importance of collaboration in research, as well as the richness of international interactions. My first contact with advanced physics was through the International Summer School ISSYP (Perimeter Institute) in 2004, an experience through which I was exposed to first-class scientists and international researchers, giving me a chance to share my passion for science. This conference profoundly modeled my view of the scientific world.
Such conferences are precious opportunities for the larger scientific community to share cutting-edge scientific activities, discuss their vision and opinions about the general direction of the field, and make deep interpersonal connections which will lead to great long-term collaborations.
I have been privileged to have many opportunities to attend such conferences, which has resulted in productive international collaborations which I am a part of. From these unique exposures, I can assert how inspiring interactions with senior and fellow junior scientists are, which motivates me to attend the 2012 Lindau conference.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
I am very excited to meet George Smoot and Brian Schmidt, because they are two cosmologists/astrophysicists/astronomers who have revolutionized the field of cosmology and contributed to shape it and define the questions we are striving to answer. I would really like to know their views on the future direction that this field of science should take in order to answer today’s fundamental questions in cosmology.

A Radio Astronomer Investigating Galaxy Evolution

Meet Jacinta Delhaize, 25, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Name: Jacinta Delhaize
Age: 25
Born: Perth, Western Australia
Nationality: Australian
Current position: Ph.D. student, University of Western Australia, International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research
Education: Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of Western Australia
What is your field of research?
I use large radio telescopes to study the evolution of galaxies in the universe.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
I have always been fascinated by the beautiful photos produced by telescopes like Hubble. The more I learned about physics and maths, the more fascinated I became in what was going on in the pictures as it revealed a whole new aspect. I found it irresistible to discover more, and so I chose to study astrophysics.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would love to work with the Square Kilometer Array, a huge radio telescope array that will be built across Australia/New Zealand and Southern Africa. When it is completed in around 10 years’ time, it will have the capability to detect some of the first stars formed after the big bang.
Who are your scientific heroes?
One of my scientific heroes is Ruby Payne-Scott. She was the first female radio astronomer in Australia and she was a very intelligent and inspirational lady. This year we celebrated what would have been her 100th birthday.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I have been doing ballet since I was about 6 years old and more recently have also taken up swing dancing.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
The motto of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings is “Educating, inspiring, connecting scientific generations.” These are precisely the ways that I hope this exciting meeting will contribute to my life and career. The Nobel laureates are the best possible people to inspire and advise my generation, and it will be a great privilege to interact with them and learn from their wisdom. The meeting will also be a unique opportunity to network with students from different countries and disciplines to make new, valuable friends and colleagues.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
I am very excited to learn from the three attending laureates who also work in the field of astrophysics and galaxy evolution. These are Brian Schmidt, an Australian astrophysicist who shared the Nobel Prize in 2011 for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe, and George Smoot and John Mather, who shared the prize for their characterization of the cosmic microwave background.

A World-Traveling Scholar of Nanophotonics

Meet Marina Radulaski, 26, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting


Name: Marina Radulaski
Age: 26
Born: Belgrade, Serbia
Nationality: Serbian
Current position: Ph.D. student, Stanford University
Education: Bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Belgrade; bachelor’s degree in computer science from Union University, Serbia
What is your field of research?
My area of research is nanophotonics, more specifically, nonlinear optics in photonic crystal cavities.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
I started learning about quantum physics at high school science camps. My intuition was challenged by the concepts of macroscopic superposition, photon entanglement and quantum computing. This led to a lot of reading and discussions, which kept me eager to understand quantum aspects of nature. Studying how light behaves in tiny volumes is in line with this curiosity, and I expect to see exciting new physics arising from our field.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
It is my passion to teach people to think critically and creatively, because I recognize these skills as formative for a progressive society. I can see myself achieving this as a professor through a direct contact with students, or as a policymaker, affecting a large number of people through various educational platforms.
Who are your scientific heroes?
Richard Feynman for his character and out-of-the-box thinking, and Anton Zeilinger for asking and answering intriguing philosophical questions in quantum physics.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I like science popularization and own a modest collection of science toys. I enjoy dancing Cuban salsa and Argentinian tango, as well as pursuing my passion for travel, which has taken me to over 20 countries during my studies.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
I am very honored to have been invited to the Lindau meeting and am looking forward to interacting with the Nobel Laureates in person. I would especially like to learn about the steps that led to their biggest discoveries, the roads they had to take before getting on the right path, as well as about the predictability of the significant results before they were obtained. I am also interested to hear about the topics the Nobelists are involved with now and what they see as critical for the science to progress. Finally, I hope they could give us advice on how to continue our scientific career.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
I am looking forward to meeting Laureates who have set grounds to the modern optics research: Prof. [Theodor] Hänsch, Prof. [Roy] Glauber, Prof. [John] Hall and Prof. [William] Phillips.