You don’t often see 13 Nobel laureates, IEEE’s own Medal of Honor recipient, three Field Medal recipients recognized for outstanding mathematical achievements, and winners of the Millennium Technology Prize, Finland’s highest award for technological development, all in the same room. But there they were as guest speakers who gathered in Singapore over the course of a week in late January for the second Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS).
GYSS, organized by Singapore’s National Research Foundation, had an international presence with participants from every part of the world. The audience included 350 researchers under the age of 35 who were nominated to attend by their universities, research institutes, and corporate laboratories. Plus, another 150 guests were there from Singapore’s technology community.
This year’s theme was “Advancing Science, Creating Technologies for a Better World.” At the sessions, attendees learned about notable breakthroughs from those who discovered them. For example, Sir Andre Geim, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010, shared insights about the one-atom-thick material made of carbon known as graphene for which he was awarded the prize. John Robin Warren, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005, shared his experience discovering the helicobacter, which is the actual cause of stomach ulcers and not stress as popularly believed for many years.
Another great session was a talk by Ada Yonath, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, in which she discussed her research in combating antibiotic resistance. Her pioneering work has been vital to identifying how bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. Overall, attendees learned about a vast amount of the latest research from such diverse fields as biochemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics and, of course, engineering.
Organizers also held several fascinating panel discussions that focused on topics such as the challenges of a science and technology career, the role of science in society, the relationship between science and the arts, and tech entrepreneurship.
IEEE’s 2013 Medal of Honor winner, Irwin M. Jacobs, proudly shared his experiences about transitioning from academia to entrepreneurship. His company, Qualcomm, has grown to be the world’s largest semiconductor supplier for wireless products, and for 15 consecutive years was on Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Not bad for a company that he started because he was bored three months into early retirement.
A design competition called Singapore Challenge was held in conjunction with GYSS. Participants submitted proposals that addressed challenges related to urban development. The theme of this year’s challenge was “From Sensing to Solution: Leveraging Information and Communication Technology to Build Sustainable Cities.” A total of 35 proposals were submitted, and among the 10 finalists was IEEE Member Jason Gu. His proposal is an open platform called “The Idea Store,” which facilitates contributions from both city planners and residents. The intent is for the platform to integrate raw data sensing, data processing, and big data analytics with built-in block programming functionalities so that even an average resident without prior programming training would be able to use it. An interview with Gu will appear in the coming months in GOLDRush, a newsletter for IEEE’s young professional members.
One of my main takeaways from the conference was that the boundaries between the fields are blurring, which perhaps motivated participants to ask more questions since they were not necessarily experts in the same field as the speakers. And they were not shy about doing so. I also observed how more and more researchers are studying and working in Asia, and I—an Australian of ethnic Chinese heritage living in Singapore—was able to carry on conversations in Mandarin with many of the attendees, including those from Germany and Algeria. Just another sign of the times.
Helene Fung is the senior strategy and business development manager with IEEE’s Global Business Development. She is based in IEEE’s Singapore office.