Science is vitally important for the future of mankind but in most of the developed world we observe a constant decrease in the number of students enrolling in scientific university curricula. Therefore, we need to seek help from our scientific heroes who can inspire the next generation of scientists. Bringing together our laureates with the best of the students from around the world for a full week can indeed be a very useful action in this direction. If in addition we can attract the interest of the general public to such an event, more inspirational impact can be expected in a wider context and possibly reach an even younger generation of students not yet converted to the science cause.
Despite all the technical changes we are witnessing, there are some invariants which most likely will hold in the foreseeable future and which have to do with the key actors in the scientific process: humans. In order to be a successful scientist one needs (in addition to the technical prerequisites) patience, determination, a high level of resilience, a vision of what might be possible, trust, and courage. The breakthroughs will still be made by bright individuals who have all these properties in the right mix and who are (maybe) a bit luckier than others – or who can just see further than the rest of us. But even these scientific leaders don’t come ready-made. They have gone through the normal education process, have communicated with their peers, have shaped and sharpened their ideas and had enough stamina (and support) to follow through to a successful outcome. Once they get there, they will become focal points (or guiding lights) for younger researchers to probe their ideas, to stake out their paths into a successful scientific career. And this is something that very likely will never become obsolete no matter how closely new technologies will be woven into the fabric of science. Werner Heisenberg observed: “Science is based on experiments, achieves its results through conversations among researchers contemplating the interpretation of those experiments.”
In times when communication is increasingly relegated to technical platforms and digital media it is particularly important to create an environment for personal communication among people who are dedicated to science, among role models and young researchers. For Physics, Chemistry and Life Sciences the Lindau Meetings have provided such an opportunity for over 60 years now. Doing the same thing for the oldest scientific discipline, Mathematics, and one of the youngest, Computer Science, is arguably overdue, and the Heidelberg Laureate Forum will try to close that gap.