Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

NIU students travel to Germany
to meet with 25 Nobel Laureates

August 4, 2008

by Tom Parisi

While most college students have spent the summer working jobs and seeing old friends, NIU students Edward Nissen and Jim Younkin have had a decidedly different experience.

NIU Ph.D student Edward Nissen talks with Nobel Laureate John Hall

They met top students in physics from around the world and hobnobbed with Nobel Laureates.

The U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation sponsored Nissen and Younkin, respectively, to take part in the 58th Annual Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates and Students.

In all, 60 top graduate students from across the United States participated, along with about 500 international students and 25 Nobel Laureates.

The meeting was held from June 29 to July 4 in Lindau, Germany. Lindau is a historic medieval island city located at the common border of Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

NIU's Jim Younkin discusses physics research with a Chinese student

Since 1951, Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, physics and medicine have convened annually at Lindau to meet with student researchers. The meetings rotate by discipline each year, with this year’s event focusing on physics.

Nissen and Younkin, who are both Ph.D. candidates in physics at NIU, were honored to be selected.

“My grandmother told me that I should write everything down so I don’t forget because it’s such a unique experience,” said Nissen, a 25-year-old from Lake Bluff who also has won $20,000 in scholarships over the past two years from the Directed Energy Professional Society.

Each morning, the Nobel Prize winners lectured on cutting-edge topics in physics. Students then joined the Laureates for informal roundtable sessions and for lunches and dinners. For closing ceremonies, they traveled by ferry to the Isle of Mainau and convened at the baroque Mainau Castle, the residence of Swedish patron Count Lennart Bernadotte, who began the Lindau meetings decades ago.

“I met and interacted personally with quite a few Nobel Laureates,” said Younkin, a 26-year-old from Spartanburg, S.C., who is specializing in high energy theory. “It was an amazing experience.”

Younkin recalled that the American and Chinese delegations had lunch together one day at a Lindau cafe, where he met a student with the same research interests.

“It turned out that we were working in exactly the same area, studying particles in bound states, so we had a really interesting discussion,” Younkin said. “We traded contact information, and I'll be learning more about what her group is doing and possibly advance my own research. Making those kinds of contacts was the best part of the conference.”

NIU, which also sent a student to the 2004 Lindau meeting, was the only Illinois university with two participants at the 2008 meeting.

“It is a competitive process,” said David Hedin, a distinguished research professor of physics at NIU. “Having two students selected this year indicates the strength of our doctoral program.”

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) administers the U.S.-portion of the Lindau Meeting. For more information, see www.orau.org/lindau/.