Michelle Emmert

Master student in Molecular Biotechnology at Heidelberg University, Germany

The Ascona Effect - A Reflection

Even now, a short time after returning, the struggle to articulate the essence of those five days lingers. The sheer scope of experiences, both internal and external, feels overwhelming to translate into words. "It was great, like a dream" seems to be the best I can manage, a sentiment echoed in my attempts to summarize the Ascona diary. But the diary, while the most faithful record, still fails to convey the true vibrancy of it all. The experience remains a collection of vivid fragments, a shift in perspective rather than a neatly packaged set of conclusions. While conversations and events have imprinted themselves on my memory, the most powerful impact lies in the internal transformation, the ongoing contemplation it sparked.

Nine strangers connected with unexpected speed and depth, venturing beyond the usual formalities to explore the core passions and questions that drive our work. It was a thrilling, and at times unsettling, experience. Stefano's question – "What drives you?" –  remains a quiet echo. There were no easy answers, and honestly, that's where the power lies. There's comfort in simply going with life's flow, in flexibility, and yet... there's a nagging power in truly knowing your driving forces. A power encouraging you to actively shape your own course, not simply respond to it. While I don't have a tidy answer yet, the gathering sparked something vital in this quest. Our conversations remain a catalyst, the promise of further discovery. It's a pursuit that continues, and that we are all committed to as individuals and a group.

The interplay between science and art remains a central fascination. Too often, attempts to translate science into artistic forms feel incomplete. We get stuck in the language of outreach, failing to find truly expressive alternatives. This raises questions: are there other ways of seeing and describing, hidden outside our established scientific vocabulary? What would someone entirely unfamiliar with our concepts perceive, and how would they describe it? Our group is committed to exploring these questions, seeking an expansive language that bridges the disciplinary division.

At their core, science and art diverge: science describes, categorizes, and builds progressively complex models of the world. Art, however, creates a vastness. It offers that cliff-edge perspective, where the lake and sky blend without clear boundary. There's no concrete 'answer' to find, but rather, an invitation into profound uncertainty. In conversation with the writers and creators, I sought insight into how they capture the intangible. They emphasized the power of repetition – "the idea is the seed, repetition the soil." One person likened it to sharpening a knife, a slow, iterative process of refinement. This resonates strongly with my experiences in both laboratory and creative practice.  The initial attempt is rarely the final work. We must learn to trust the process, to accept its rhythms, knowing that with the confidence born of shared purpose, something enduring and transformative will eventually emerge. From the artists, I absorbed another valuable lesson about the role of time and space within creation. The scientific world often pushes us towards rapid output, leaving little room for quiet gestation. Yet, true innovation might require deliberate pauses, moments where we allow nascent ideas to take their own shape.

While the gathering itself has ended, its reverberations continue. The true impact will take time to unfold, to fully reveal itself once I return to my usual routines and allow these impressions to settle. Transformations of this sort unfold slowly. They defy easy analysis, precisely because they set us apart from the ordinary.
Looking back, I realize this wasn't simply a dream; it was a catalyst. Leaving Monte Verita some found specific answers, others found untapped potential, and all of us departed with a sense of possibility still unfolding. This journey isn't over.  It continues, fueled by the anticipation of reconvening and witnessing the directions these seeds will take as they sprout into unexpected, and undoubtedly beautiful, forms.


If you had asked me about my biggest goal since I was little, I would have answered "Wissenschaftlerin“, the German word for scientist, literally translating to 'knowledge creator'. Now, at 22, nearing the finish line of my Master's in Molecular Biotechnology at Heidelberg University, I do what I always wished for. But science isn't my only pursuit. The arts, from theater and music to film and writing, have woven themselves into the tapestry of my life. Organizing exhibitions, composing song lyrics, capturing moments through photography or oil paintings, and shaping clay into stories – these diverse expressions are my instruments for navigating the intricacies of the world within and around me.

My scientific exploration through bioinformatics, biophysics, and synthetic biology has ignited a passion not just for technical expertise, but also for understanding the impact of these fields on the broader symphony of society. Growing up amidst a constant dance of state and country borders, my childhood instilled in me an awareness of cultural, social, and economic privilege, which I believe is deeply embedded in both science and art. It is precisely this awareness that fuels my desire to bridge these seemingly disparate worlds, fostering critical reflection and cross-disciplinary dialogue in these transformative times.

Art, in its myriad forms, has always been my anchor, a space to expand my thinking and translate intricate concepts into engaging narratives. Writing, in particular, holds a special charm, allowing me to crystallize the complexities of the world around me and spark meaningful conversations across diverse audiences. Whether engaging in art and writing contests or contributing to educational programs, my unwavering commitment to using words as bridges has been recognized and encouraged.

This is why the Bridging Horizons program, and particularly the Eventi letterari, resonates so deeply with me. It offers a unique opportunity to delve into the transformative power of storytelling, forging connections between seemingly disparate fields. Participating in workshops, collaborating with passionate peers and mentors, and immersing myself in the world of writing alongside experienced authors – these experiences promise an invaluable exchange of knowledge and perspectives. Together, we can explore the intricate dance between science and art, crafting narratives that not only inform but also inspire critical reflection and positive societal change. Beyond honing my writing skills, I see myself contributing to the program's mission with enthusiasm. I believe in the power of accessible language and open dialogue.

With my diverse background in science and art, my international upbringing, and unwavering passion for storytelling, I'm confident that the Eventi letterari will be a transformative experience, shaping my future as both a scientist and a storyteller.