Peter Andreas Grünberg is a professor of physics at the Jülich Research Centre in Northrhine-Westphalia. He and Albert Fert, from France, were awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics for their parallel discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance – an effect which enables the significant miniaturisation of hard disks. This summer, Grünberg will participate in the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
After your visits in 2008 and 2010, this will be the third time you are participating in a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. What are your motives for meeting young scientists from all over the world?
As I have plenty of obligations, I commonly avoid spending too much precious time on visiting scientific conferences. But I have actually become very eager indeed to participate in Lindau. The most important feature of these great meetings is that they animate both generations of participants to find out more about each other – young researchers and Nobel Laureates alike. The last two times, I was astonished and amazed to learn about the diverse personal backgrounds and professional specialisations of the talented young people gathered in Lindau. Conversely, they seemed surprised to hear what it’s actually like to be a Nobel Laureate, which isn’t always nice and comfortable. Plenty of commitments arise from it, you have to follow numerous invitations and give many interviews, and there’s an awful lot of paper work to be done. At the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings though, the atmosphere is totally unconstrained. This stimulates profound discussions and inspiring talks – especially during the relaxing boat trip to Mainau Island on Lake Constance, which is one of my favourite integral parts of the meeting week. I wouldn’t want to miss out on that!
Since 1951, the Lindau Meetings have been unique opportunities to make new contacts. Is networking essential for scientists today, and if so, why?
Personally, I am not very fond of networking, although I do not question the importance of well-established contacts in science and research. I just doubt that excessive networking is worth the effort put into it. I favour seizing opportunities for collaborations right away when they arise, instead of waiting for potential benefits of longsome contact maintenance. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, however, are surely the right place for young scientists to make valuable contacts and forge bonds between each other. Still, my advice to them is to speak out candidly on their intentions, concerns or requests, and to be straightforward when addressing preferred contact persons.
The upcoming meeting will be used by physicists to share their enthusiasm for science and exchange knowledge and experiences. What have you been working on recently?
Currently I am preoccupied with analysing the connection between music and physics, which is also the topic of my lecture at the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. To put it simple, the underlying question is: Why do we have a feeling of warmth when we hear certain kinds of music, and why do other kinds of music cause aggressiveness or tension? This has to do with the harmonics in music and can be examined with the Fourier analysis – named after the French mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier (1768–1830). He dealt with the propagation of heat in solid state bodies. The Fourier analysis, representing in brief a general function by a trigonometric series, is a cornerstone of modern physics, as well as of acoustic music and digital sound production. The whole matter of harmonic analysis is rather new to me and keeps me busy. But I think investigating it further is definitely worthwhile and quite interesting! It has lately become a vast subject with applications in areas as diverse as signal processing, quantum mechanics, and neuroscience.
In detail, your lecture at the Lindau Meeting will revolve around the harmonies of alpine folk music. With your permission, a video of it will be published online shortly after in the Lindau Mediatheque. What can we expect?
As I will give this lecture in Lindau, down in the very south of Germany and close to Austria and Switzerland, I have decided to focus on alpine folk music. If you look across Lake Constance from Lindau Island, you will have an amazing view of the Alps! With participants from all different parts of the world at the meeting, I thought it would be nice to make them familiar with the music played in Bavaria and the whole Alpine region. So, within the course of my lecture, there will be several live music performances by professional musicians – and myself.
Professor Grünberg, thank you very much for this interview.