Asian Scientist (Feb. 9, 2016) – I attended the Global Young Scientists Summit 2016 (GYSS@one-north 2016) in January this year.
The five-day conference, which ran from 17-22 January, featured a spectrum of topics delivered by scientific leaders from around the world. It broadened my perspective of today’s research trends and reminded me of the need to ponder over urgent global issues outside my field of study, such as food security and alternative energy sources.
Ignorance drives discovery
A running theme through the plenary talks was a constant reminder to take part in curiosity-driven research.
Professor David Gross, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, said, “I really do want to talk not about knowledge but about ignorance, which I would like to say is the most important. Science does not thrive on knowledge. It thrives on ignorance. It is problems that take us to the frontiers of knowledge where we encounter new questions that our scientific inclinations move.”
However, when we are at the starting line of the race, we can never quite predict the far-reaching impact of our work, the speakers said.
Professor Jerome Friedman, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1990 for his instrumental role in the discovery of quarks, the fundamental constituent of matter, told the audience that he never anticipated he would discover something so important. It was purely out of curiosity and a passion for physics that led him to discover the existence of quarks, he said, which has since formed the basis for modern technologies such as personal computers and medical imaging systems.
Likewise, Professor John Robin Warren, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005 for his discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, spoke about the various hurdles he had encountered along the way, and encouraged the GYSS participants to maintain a sense of conviction in their research.
“If you think you have found something, it may be there. You will see it. If people tell you that things are not there, you don’t necessarily have to believe them,” Professor Warren said.
Professor Warren’s words resonated close to my heart. It strengthened my resolve not to be easily discouraged by the opinions of others. I am a strong believer that one’s attitude can influence the outcomes of one’s research; hence, maintaining a positive mindset is critical.
What has luck got to do with it?
Is there a correlation between scientific success and luck? I posed this question to Sir Tim Hunt, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, during one of the small group sessions.
For his groundbreaking discovery of cyclins, a family of proteins central to the progression of the cell cycle, an awful lot of luck was involved, he said.
In fact, it is a mixture of luck, competence, and being in the right place at the right time that matters, he said. But persistence and commitment are equally important, he added.
Taking risks, avoiding dogma
Professor Michael Grätzel, winner of the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize, challenged us to take risks and not get caught up in dogma. Starting out as a young scientist, Professor Grätzel was often told that the work he was embarking on was doomed to fail.
Today, he has certainly proven himself as he shared with us his breakthroughs in dye-sensitized solar cell technology. It seemed to be a common thread that the ideas of many of these eminent scientists were met with scorn during the early stages of their careers. Their perseverance and willingness to challenge scientific orthodoxy, however, eventually paid off.
A lesson I learnt is that scientific success favors the risk-takers, and that people win Nobel Prizes for working on the impossible. If we do things the same way as others, how likely are we to make delightful new discoveries?
On the day I checked out from my hostel room at the Singapore University of Technology and Design campus, I felt rejuvenated and grateful for the lessons learnt at GYSS. I felt ever so inspired to pursue my research with greater passion, and to contribute to society in a meaningful way that benefits mankind.
Thank you GYSS!
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Liu Yuchun.
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