If it wasn’t for the coronavirus pandemic this event would have probably taken place much sooner. Neither the delay nor the hot weather of the early summer discouraged more than one hundred people to fill the refectory of the Mendel Museum for the “Sounds of Science” seminar.
Originally scheduled to be held in Prague, the event saw three scientists who have made an eternal impact in the history of their respective fields. Jean-Marie Lehn and Jean Tirole are Nobel Prize laureates; Thomas Ebbesen is the winner of the Kavli Prize awarded for excellent achievements in astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.
Following the opening speech by Vice-Rector Šárka Pospíšilová and representative of the French Embassy in Prague the host of the event Daniel Stach welcomed Jean-Marie Lehn. The recipient of the 1987 Nobel Prize in chemistry and several French honours and awards proved his love for music and sense of responsibility when he combined his presentation on the creative power of chemistry with music-related metaphors (in line with the name of the event and its venue) as well as references to Leoš Janáček. As Lehn noted, he has been to Brno several times but has not had the time to see any of Janáček’s operas.
While Lehn’s lecture emphasised the relations among chemistry, physics and biology (and to some extent, music), Jean Tirole combined economics with social sciences. The laureate of the 2014 Nobel Prize hinted at the issue of the greater good, the topic of one of his most recent books, only to proceed to analyse it within the context of meritocracy and social justice. “I have liked social sciences and maths since high school. I discovered economics much later in college, and I like it because it combines the mathematical precision and human elements,” says one of the most influential present-day economists about his affection for his field of work.
The self-proclaimed “physical chemist who used to hate chemistry” Thomas Ebbesen discussed the mysterious paths of top scientists. He was the first scientist to observe the passage of light through subwavelength holes. He also proved that certain properties of materials, such as chemical reactivity, can be modified via coupling with vacuum fields.
Ebbesen’s Alchemy of the vacuum offered some practical observations as well as laughs, which is also the case of the final discussion at the end of the event. Regardless of the seemingly professional nature of the lectures, friendly atmosphere and open-mindedness were the common thread of the event. “It is important to know things; one should be knowledgeable not just in their field but one should be interested in other fields as well. I have used this approach throughout my career,” said Ebbesen who himself has gone through four different fields of science to achieve what his colleagues thought was impossible.
The “Sound of Science” event was not the last opportunity to meet Nobel Prize laureates. In less than a month three more laureates will visit Brno to attend a conference scheduled for 20–23 July: chemists Ada E. Yonath and Thomas Cech and geneticist Paul Nurse.