Nobel Laureates and Young Scientists Work to Solve Global Challenges

Summit brings together like-minded peers

30 January 2013

The Global Young Scientists Summit held from 20 to 25 January in Singapore brought together the next generation of leading researchers from around the world to rub shoulders with laureates from the fields of medicine, chemistry, and physics. The invitation-only meeting, which took place at the University Cultural Center at the National University of Singapore, was the first such event of its kind held in the country. The theme was “Advancing Science, Creating Technologies for a Better World.” The event attracted almost 500 people, and included presentations, panel discussions, and tours of local research facilities. The 280 young scientists who attended were post-doctoral fellows and Ph.D. students nominated by top academic and research institutions who either have a presence in Singapore or have a strong partnership with one of the local research institutions. Among the 12 Nobel Laureates were Dr. Sydney Brenner, who holds the 2002 Nobel Prize in Medicine; Sir Anthony Leggett, who received the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics; and Aaron Chiechanover, who was awarded  the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Singapore’s National Research Foundation organized the event, and its chief executive officer, IEEE Fellow Low Teck Seng, was the cochair. The foundation is a department within the prime minister’s office and helps to set the direction for the nation’s research and development activities. The summit is modeled after the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which since 1951 has been bringing together laureates and leading scientists from around the world to “transfer knowledge between generations of scientists,” according to the meeting’s website.

The Singapore summit offers a platform for these young researchers to “connect and engage with like-minded peers from all nationalities to build a strong global research network,” says Low. “The summit aims to address the whole spectrum of research: from basic science to multidisciplinary solutions. The translation from basic R&D to usable innovations frequently requires engineering expertise, so it is essential for IEEE members to know about the summit.”

During the first three days, the laureates lectured on topics of their choosing. For example, Brenner spoke about “Humans in a Dish,” Leggett talked about “Why Can’t Time Run Backwards?” and Ciechanover covered “The Revolution of Personalized Medicine: From Treatment of a Disease to Treatment of an Individual Patient.”

While not a Nobel Laureate, IEEE Fellow Jon M. Peha was invited by Low to talk to attendees about the new era for radio spectrum management. Peha is a professor in the department of engineering and public policy and the department of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. He is a former chief technologist for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. (Read our 2009 profile of Peha.) He warned the attendees that a shortage of available spectrum will “force us to change many of the ways that we have been designing wireless systems and defining spectrum policies for over 80 years.” “Spectrum sharing will be crucial, and we are still learning and inventing new approaches to it,” Peha added. “Making spectrum available for new purposes is one of a growing number of challenges that requires multidisciplinary expertise and a systems perspective.”

The afternoons were filled with informal small group sessions called master classes as well as panel discussions. Covered were such topics as breakthroughs through multidisciplinary scientific research, and the challenge of building a better world by using technology. Participants also visited local research centers and labs “to open up a pipeline of research talent for local universities and research institutions,” says Low.

Some of the attendees participated in the Singapore Challenge 2013. The “Innovations for Future Cities” contest asked them to come with solutions for infrastructure problems that large cities face such as water management, waste reduction, transportation, and power generation. Participants had to write a 2000-word white paper outlining the challenge they wanted to take on, a description of their solution, an action plan, and a demonstration of their prototype. Some of the proposals included developing a smart water management system to minimize water loss and energy use, and a network of underground reservoirs. The authors of the best 10 papers presented their ideas to a panel of scientific leaders, and the winner received US $100 000.

“There is a long tradition of events where many of the world’s Nobel Laureates in science speak to the next generation of outstanding researchers,” noted Peha. “This was the latest in that tradition, except that the roster of speakers went further beyond the basic sciences to include more technologists. It was great to have people with IEEE-related backgrounds there to learn from and contribute to the discussion. Perhaps more of IEEE’s promising young researchers will attend and benefit from these summits in the future.”

Do you think these types of meetings are beneficial? If invited, would you attend, and why?

Photo: iStockphoto

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