For each Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, the FNR runs a Call for promising young researchers with a connection to Luxembourg to attend. For the 2022 Lindau Meeting, dedicated to chemistry, Wieland Goetzke, postdoc in chemical biology at Scripps Research Institute had this rare opportunity. We speak to Wieland about the highlights of this unique experience!
You had the opportunity to meet Nobel Prize winners and hundreds of other young researchers, how was this experience?
“It was an incredibly interesting, fun, and inspiring week. Unlike many other scientific conferences, it was very easy to talk to and get to know people – both fellow young scientists as well as Nobel laureates, which is what made this meeting so special. I am sure that I made lifelong friendships and connections during the week in Lindau.”
What were your impressions of the Nobel Prize Winners?
“The Nobel prize winners were all very approachable and happy to share their personal experiences, career choices, and advice. All of them were enormously passionate about their own discoveries but also about the research of us young scientists. But of course, every individual Laureate is unique, and it was nice and somehow reassuring to hear how different life decisions and also habits can lead to very successful scientific careers – e.g., Venki Ramakrishnan took undergraduate courses in Biology after completing his PhD in Physics as he wanted to work on problems in biochemistry, and Avram Hershko is still working regularly at the bench in his lab.”
If you had to pick one highlight, what would it be?
“It is very difficult to pick a single item on the agenda. Personally, I found both Ben Feringa’s lecture on ‘The Joy of Discovery’, in which he presents his vision for molecular machines, and Venki Ramakrishnan’s Agora talk, in which he connects his scientific search for the structure of the Ribosome with his life and career choices, especially inspiring.”
Were there any current topics that came up from several Laureates or researchers in attendance?
“AI in Chemistry was a recurring topic. It is a rapidly evolving field, one which provides powerful and easily accessible tools to chemists and biochemists. For example, the program AlphaFold allows us to predict protein structures from the amino acid sequence with remarkable accuracy. It is always exciting to consider what other tools may be developed in the near future.”
Did you find any inspiration at the meeting, for your work or outside?
“Research is full of setbacks and challenges. It simply feels very good and motivating to hear so many scientists – young and established – share their excitement and passion for their research, despite all the challenges along the way.”
Can you tell us a bit about your research, what do you study and why is it important?
“Small molecules can be used to modulate the function of proteins selectively – this means they can be used therapeutically to treat human diseases in a targeted manner. Usually, drug discovery is focussed on the small fraction of the human proteome currently considered to be druggable. Expanding the druggable part of the proteome would be of great long-term importance for developing new medical treatments, and consequently for improving human health.
“My current research takes an interdisciplinary approach by building unique libraries of electrophilic compounds, screening these with quantitative mass spectrometric methods, and then doing functional studies to locate new drug targets. We are especially interested in proteins and small molecules that target those proteins that are relevant for cancer, and by extension its treatment.”