Duke Physics graduate student Abhijit Mehta spent a week this summer on the isle of Lindau in Germany, interacting with 60 Nobel Laureates and about 600 “young researchers” from all over the world. Mehta was among 75 United States graduate students selected to attend the famous meeting. His trip was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and supported administratively by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).
Mehta relished being able to meet and talk with the students, scientists, and Nobel Laureates in attendance. “The one-on-one conversations were the most fun part,” he says. This year’s meeting was multidisciplinary—physics, chemistry, and medicine/physiology—which was particularly exciting for Mehta, who is “incredibly interested in interdisciplinary applications of physics.” In the mornings, Nobel Laureates gave talks on topics of their choice, and in the afternoons, there were more informal seminars. In addition, because the meeting took place on a small island, lunches and dinners out often turned into impromptu gatherings of Laureates and students. “It was really fascinating to hear the stories of the different Laureates and hear about the paths they had taken—both the science and the human part of the story,” Mehta says. On the last day, all of the students and Nobel Laureates took a cruise on Lake Constance to the isle of Mainau, where they visited Countess Bettina Bernadotte, one of the sponsors of the Lindau meeting. During the boat ride, Mehta and a fellow student approached Klaus von Klitzing to ask him a question about the Quantum Hall Effect, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1985. “He grabbed a napkin and derived the equation for us,” Mehta says. He also enjoyed talking with Walter Kohn, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998 for Density Functional Theory. “As a computational physicist, I was excited to talk to him,” Mehta says. “He’s in his 80s now, and still looking for new problems. The scientists who are still doing work were the most inspiring to me.” One night, there was a traditional waltz and polonaise. Mehta takes ballroom dance classes in his spare time, so this was a special treat for him. “I was one of only two men in the U.S. delegation who knew how to waltz,” he says. Among the Nobel Laureates, “Klaus von Klitzing is actually a very good dancer.” Mehta graduated from Duke in 2006, and stayed on for graduate school. He has already earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering. For his PhD in condensed matter physics, he is using computational techniques to investigate the electronic properties of nanostructures such as quantum wires and quantum point contacts. Of his experience in Lindau, he says, “It was inspiring—energy and enthusiasm are infectious. I’d really encourage other graduate students to look for opportunities like these because it was really a unique and wonderful experience for me.” Visit the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) website here. Read the full press release regarding the Nobel Laureates at Lindau here. View Mehta's photos here.