Faculty of Science student attends prestigious Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

“Magical” is how Faculty of Science biophysics undergraduate student Tarnem Afify described her experience at the prestigious 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting at Lake Constanze in Lindau, Germany, this month.

Afify was one of 580 of the next generation of leading scientists – undergraduates, PhD students and postdoctoral Fellows – from 88 countries around the world chosen to participate in the meeting along with 39 Nobel laureates.

Tarnem Afify (third from left at front) with Nobel Laureates Arthur McDonald and Donna Strickland (at back) and the Canadian group of young scientists at the meeting. Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Tarnem Afify (third from left at front) with Nobel laureates Arthur McDonald and Donna Strickland (at back) and the Canadian group of young scientists at the meeting. Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Professor Sean Tulin of the Department of Physics & Astronomy in the Faculty of Science nominated her from York, followed by Queen’s University Professor Emeritus and Nobel laureate Arthur McDonald nominating her to the Lindau Meeting Selection Committee.

“Tarnem is an out-of-the-box thinker with huge ambitions, especially when it comes to breaking down barriers and under-representation in science,” said Tulin. “It’s just impressive and inspiring to me what she has done and what she wants to accomplish. I believe she may be the first attendee at this meeting ever from York.”

Opening day speakers encouraged the young scientists to get involved and help shape societal developments.

The goal is to “share knowledge and spark passion for science,” said Afify, who was also a president’s ambassador this year at York University. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting encourages younger researchers to excel and strive to do their best. It also provides the opportunity for them to discuss current issues and explore new research with the Nobel laureates.

“Spending a week talking about everything related to physics with the Nobel laureates and the top young scientists in the world felt just like being in the heavens,” said Afify. “The intergenerational and international dialogues that I was given the honour to be part of sparked thousands of ideas and new projects that I am planning to implement in the research and outreach activities I do at York.”

Afify learned about current scientific topics such as laser physics, cosmology, gravitational waves, material physics and the dark side of the universe.

Above: From left, Nobel Laureate Gerard Mourou and York biophysics student Tarnem Afify

From left: Nobel laureate Gerard Mourou and York biophysics student Tarnem Afify

A highlight of the event was her discussion with Nobel laureate Gerard Mourou about the boundaries of light and matter interactions, a topic that has grabbed her attention for a while. He spoke about the interconnections of the fields of optics and particle physics.

“Our conversation started with vacuum materialization and how ultra-relativistic light can produce particles and anti-particles to talking about how the utilization of short laser pulses can shrink massive particle accelerators down to a chip-like size,” said Afify.

Interactions with younger researchers were also rewarding. A chance breakfast encounter with a master’s student from the University of Witwatersrand sparked a conversation about the integration of astrophysics and biophysics, an area that interests Afify but not many others, she says. She was so inspired that back at her hotel she said she immediately began “mapping out radiation and genomic calculations, experiments and projects, as well as searching for scientists and institutions who would be interested in supporting such projects.”

The Canadian young scientists also had lunch with Nobel laureates Arthur McDonald and Donna Strickland.

“The Lindau Meeting is indeed a unique place for intensive exchange of ideas and memorable personal encounters,” said Afify.

She had kind words for her nominators and supporters: “A heartfelt thanks to Dr. Sean Tulin for nominating me and always supporting me. A hundred thank yous to Dr. Arthur McDonald for nominating me to the Lindau Meeting Selection Committee and the McDonald Institute for facilitating the nomination as well as supporting my participation together with the Bayer Science & Education Foundation and York University.”

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