The world is becoming more complicated, with advanced technologies such as gene editing and artificial intelligence opening up a host of complex challenges and ethical questions.
It is up to scientists to step up and collaborate to solve these issues, and to communicate their findings and opinions in an accessible way to the public, including through social media, said distinguished speakers at the recent Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) 2020.
The summit was the eighth edition of the annual event, which is organised by the National Research Foundation Singapore to provide a platform for conversations on science and research, technology innovation and global issues.
During the summit, which was held in Singapore from January 14 to 17, and had the theme of “Advancing Science, Creating Technologies for a Better World”, 325 outstanding young scientists interacted with 16 esteemed leaders in science and technology.
GYSS 2020 spanned 15 plenary lectures, panel discussions, small group discussions, site visits and dialogue sessions with principal investigators and researchers to better understand the research opportunities in Singapore.
The public also heard from the eminent scientists in public forums hosted by local universities and schools.
Delving deep into science and technology
The future of healthcare was a dominant topic of discussion, with Professor Aaron Ciechanover (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2004) noting that the ongoing personalisation of medical treatments will improve patient outcomes but raise thorny ethical issues.
“Medicine is changing, from being about the disease to being about the disease in the context of the patient,” he said. “The more information we can get about a person’s genetics, however, the more questions will arise about issues such as genetic privacy and gene editing.”
Scientists also need to work with politicians and the public to confront troubling trends such as the growing resistance against vaccination in several countries, urged special guest speaker Professor Alain Fischer, Chair of Experimental Medicine at the Collège de France in Paris.
“Scientists have to learn the art of communication. We also need more research on the social aspects of health, including the sociology and anthropology of it, to understand how we can get people to behave better with new information,” he stressed.
In other plenary lectures, the speakers, which included recipients of the Nobel Prize, Fields Medal, Millennium Technology Prize and Turing Award, explored the history and future of physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science and engineering.
Sir Konstantin Novoselov (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2010), who was participating in GYSS for the first time, noted that a new generation of two-dimensional materials and their composites could lead to technologies limited only by scientists’ imagination.
“We can now create new materials, atom by atom and layer by layer, and assign properties and functions to them. We can design new materials to achieve specific applications. We can create novel applications not possible before,” he explained.
Dr Kees Immink (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Medal of Honour, 2017) and Professor Michael Grätzel (Millennium Technology Prize, 2010) also predicted revolutionary advances in the fields of data storage and renewable energy.
Dr Immink, another first-time speaker at GYSS, said that with DNA-based data storage, DNA equivalent to a pint of beer could store all of the information that resides in the Internet today, although significant obstacles such as cost need to be overcome.
The emergence of perovskite solar cells is another stunning development in renewable energy as they require hundreds times less materials to manufacture than traditional silicon solar power cells, said Professor Grätzel.
He added that the perovskite cells, though in their infancy now, could be commercialised on a large scale within five years, aiding in the fight against climate change. He ended his presentation with a call: “Let’s work to conserve our beautiful world.”
Inspiring minds, making connections
The young scientists at GYSS 2020 said that the lectures and discussions had inspired them, and the networking sessions helped them to build new connections.
Mr Imran Ahmed from Britain’s Warwick University said: “Although we come from different fields, the speakers made it possible for us to understand their complex work and fields. I’m going to do that in the future when I present my own research.”
“I really liked the panel discussions and small group discussions. It’s very rare to get the opportunity to meet and engage with a very important scientist who has done something very important for society,” added Ms Mayasa Al-Nema from the UCSI University in Malaysia.
Mr Fung Fun Man from the National University of Singapore noted: “I made friends with many successful young scientists from around the globe and understand the national perspectives of research in their countries better. We also discussed at length how we can collaborate.”
Ms Marina Dorokhova, from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, concluded: “I think the biggest takeaway is that we have to collaborate with one another to learn from one another, and that will be the pathway that will bring us to great discoveries.”
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