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Four UW–Madison students attending prestigious Nobel conference

July 2, 2012

Four UW–Madison students will meet with more than 30 Nobel laureates and 580 young researchers from around the world July 1-6 at the 62nd annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting held on Lake Constance in Lindau, Germany.

The meeting provides a globally recognized forum for knowledge transfer among generations of scientists. The topic cycles annually between chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine; the 2012 meeting is focused on physics. The invited students attend morning lectures by the Nobel laureates on topics ranging from historical to hypothetical. Afternoons are devoted to small discussions among the laureates and young scientists.

Two engineering students and two physics students from UW–Madison were selected to attend in 2012. The Georgia Institute of Technology is the only other institution with four students accepted this year.

Materials Science Program doctoral candidate Laura Jamison says she is looking forward to discussing her work and career with laureates and peers. “Making contact with people from institutions around the world will be extremely valuable,” Jamison says. “I want to hear how the laureates developed their careers to become such well-rounded scientists. I want to hear their insights on the politics of science and working with institutions both public and private.”

Physics graduate student Alex Carr agrees. “From this meeting I hope to meet many interesting graduate students and learn about the wide variety of research outside of my field. I expect to make friends and colleagues here that may lead to fruitful collaborations and discussions far into the future,” he says. In his research, Carr is attempting to build a quantum computer using a two-dimensional array of neutral cesium atoms.

Fellow physics student Walter Pettus, whose research focuses on searching for dark matter using a detector buried in the ice at Antarctica, says, “It’s a dream come true to meet Nobel laureates, and to be surrounded by them and interact with and learn from them is just phenomenal.”

He is particularly looking forward to the announcement of major results from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, planned for Wednesday morning. “To be able to talk with Nobel laureates as a huge result in physics comes out and see how they react is going to be really cool.”

Engineering physics fusion researcher Lauren Garrison studies materials for use in fusion reactors. She says she was motivated to apply to the meeting, in part, by the story of Maria Goeppert-Mayer, the third women ever awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Goeppert-Mayer developed the nuclear shell model of atomic nuclei. She shared the prize with J. Hans D. Jensen, who had independently developed a similar model, and with theoretician Eugene Wigner.

“I would ask the same questions to the different laureates, but a female laureate’s perspective on what they’ve had to overcome might be more in line with things that I’ve experienced,” says Garrison, who is blogging about her experiences at “I think I could relate on a different level. The women who did win the Nobel Prize in physics overcame crazy odds. Maria Goeppert-Mayer had trouble finding a school that would take her. Those conditions have certainly changed, but there are a disproportionate number of men to women in the sciences. It would be interesting to talk someone who, in the 1940s and 1950s, overcame such incredible odds and was able to accomplish such great science.”

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