Fee hike threatens students' chance to meet Nobelists

July 5, 2002

British participation in an international meeting of Nobel laureates is in danger because of a lack of interest from funding bodies.

The annual meeting of Nobel prizewinners in Lindau, Germany, offers more than 600 students from around the world the opportunity to meet and talk informally with about 20 laureates. The meeting switches annually between physics, chemistry and medicine.

Currently, British students are exempted from the £70 entry fee. Expenses are paid by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics or the Institute of Biology and Council of Heads of Medical Schools. But the meeting organisers have raised next year's fee to £300, removing the British waiver, and the subject bodies say they cannot meet the extra costs.

Simon Newman, who works voluntarily to promote the meeting in the UK, negotiated the original concession. He said he had approached the Royal Society and the government, but neither offered the funding.

"You can't imagine what it does for a young scientist to meet someone they only know from a textbook and how it inspires them," Mr Newman said. He said that about £10,000 a year would allow 20 British students to attend.

This week, 20 doctoral chemistry students from British universities attended the 51st Lindau meeting. One said it was like being invited to the Oscar awards ceremony.

British students have been attending the meeting only since 1997. The US government funds about 90 students to attend, and countries such as India, Taiwan and Israel send contingents.

Aaron Klug, Nobel winner in 1982 and former president of the Royal Society, said: "It's important for Nobels to reach the wider world. Nothing compares to this. The students are treated as a community of equals."

Sir Harry Kroto, winner in 1996 and based at Sussex University, said the government should fund the students. He added: "Unfortunately, this meeting hits so few. But to do something in the UK would be much more parochial."

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