Day 2

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

A New Kilogram in 2018: The Biggest Revolution in Metrology Since the French Revolution
Klaus von Klitzing, Nobel Prize in Physics (1985)

klaus von klitzing

In today’s opening plenary lecture, Professor Klaus von Klitzing declared that 2018 would see “the biggest revolution in metrology since the French Revolution”, when the existing metric system was devised. In November, delegates at the General Conference on Weights and Measures are expected to vote to update the definitions of several units of measurements, including the kilogram and ampere, to base them on fundamental constants of nature.

He explained: “If you are a scientist who wants to describe nature, you have to conduct measurements, and everything in nature can be expressed with seven base units, which include the second and kilogram. Therefore, you need very good definitions for these units. The kilogram now is based on a piece of metal in Paris, and if it disappears no one will know what a kilogram is. The new kilogram will be related to the Planck constant. Constants of nature will be the base for the new international system of measurements, and these new units will be more stable and universal.”

Innovation by Evolution: Bringing New Chemistry to Life
Frances Arnold, Millennium Technology Prize (2016)

frances arnold

"All of the beautiful molecules in our world today were made through the simple process of evolution, accumulating mutations over multiple generations and millions of years,” said Professor Frances Arnold during her plenary lecture. “Every one of those molecules is fine-tuned for its biological role, and our question is, how can we do that in a forward-looking way?” 

Professor Arnold noted that people have been modifying the biological world at the level of DNA for many years, by choosing who mates with whom. “There wasn’t much control over the evolutionary process because of the limitations – you couldn’t mate monkeys with worms. Now, however, we can make any DNA we want. By finding ‘parent’ molecules, mutating them, deciding which mutated molecules do something interesting and using those to parent the next generation, we can optimise enzymes. These enzymes have been used to do everything from processing your blue jeans to improving laundry detergents.”    

Spin Orbitronics: Chiral Domain Walls and Anti-Skyrmions
Stuart Parkin, Millennium Technology Prize (2014)

stuart parkin

The future of memory chips and devices could look very different compared to what we are used to today, predicted Professor Stuart Parkin in his plenary lecture, which spanned his decades in the field and exciting new developments in recent years. “Over the past few years, there have been remarkable discoveries in spin-based phenomena that rely on spin-orbit coupling that could spur the development of advanced magnetic memory devices,” he said.

Industry leaders such as Samsung, Intel and Global Foundries are all investing in a new technology called spin-transfer torque magnetic random access memory (STT-MRAM) that consumes less power and offers higher speed, for example. Professor Parkin himself developed a radical new design for computer data storage, called racetrack memory, that could dramatically improve the speed of data access without increasing costs. “Racetrack memory promises a high performance, non-volatile memory with memory capacities one to two orders of magnitude higher than any conventional charge-based memory,” he said.

Seeing the Impossible: Stumbling on the Secret of Cell Division
Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2001)

tim hunt

Curiosity and collaboration are the bedrock of science, Sir Tim Hunt summarised during his plenary lecture, which traced his journey to winning the Nobel Prize. “I’ve had wonderful teachers who knew what they were talking about, and, when I was at Cambridge University, my colleagues, peers, most of whom were much cleverer, were real educators through the questions that they posed. Chatting to people, going out with people and discussing with people is the essence of the scientific method,” he said.  

He added that listening to and working with other scientists had catalysed many of his own discoveries. Two lectures by Professor Henry Borsook and Professor Vernon Ingram, for example, had sparked his interest in the connection between sea urchin eggs and red blood cells, which eventually led to his Nobel Prize-winning research about how cells grow, divide and multiply. He noted: “Scientific meetings are very important, and I’ve always found ‘work with people who are cleverer than you are’ to be first-rate advice.”

Mathematics: Science or Art?
Efim Zelmanov, Fields Medal (1994)

efim zelmanov

“A mathematical proof can be beautiful or ugly, and if you listen to a conversation between two mathematicians, you may think that they are talking about art. For those in science, their science is art to them. In mathematicians, this tendency is even more pronounced,” said Professor Efim Zelmanov during his plenary lecture. He elaborated that the beauty of mathematical proofs is in their consistency and contribution to human understanding.  

He said: “Mathematics has two sides: its utility and the majesty of its proofs. If you open the book of Euclid (a Greek mathematician) written two thousand years ago, the proofs in it are still proofs. The concept of truth in mathematics is amazingly stable. Proofs can also help us to understand why certain things are true. Very few people can understand beautiful math, but its many applications is why it is very much supported by many people, from the military to the commercial sector to security agencies.”  

Science and Society
Ada Yonath, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2009)
François Englert, Nobel Prize in Physics (2013)
Gerard ’t Hooft, Nobel Prize in Physics (1999)
Stuart Parkin, Millennium Technology Prize (2014)

panel 500 cropped

The scientific community and society have obligations to one another: scientists should try to explain the value and applications of their work to the public, especially through democratic channels such as YouTube and open-access journals, while governments should improve education to help young people to understand the importance and nature of research, said eminent scientists at the second panel session of GYSS 2018.  

During the session, the scientists also answered GYSS participants’ questions on how to stem the public’s eroding trust in science and experts in some parts of the world, and means to combat “fake science” or pseudo-science. A key consensus was that scientific research has changed tremendously and become much more interdisciplinary, and scientific education, even at the primary school level, needs to follow suit.  

Public Lecture: From Scottish Nobody to Swedish Nobel Prize
Sir Fraser Stoddart, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2016)  


This morning, Nobel laureate Sir Fraser Stoddart delivered a public lecture at the National University of Singapore. An engaging speaker, Sir Fraser regaled the audience of about a hundred with anecdotes from his life’s journey, interspersed with milestones throughout his accomplished career in chemistry.  

From humble beginnings growing up without electricity on a Scottish farm to the hallowed halls of renowned universities such as UCLA and Northwestern, Sir Fraser was frank in discussing both the tragedies and triumphs he’s faced throughout the years - from struggling with difficult superiors in the early days of his career, losing his wife to breast cancer, to learning he’d won the 2016 Nobel Prize from a 4am phone call and the strange sensation of seeing his face on building-high banners throughout the university.  

“Despite all the ups and downs, I think I’ve been really privileged to go on a journey surrounded by some of the brightest young practise my hobby effectively everyday of my life,” Sir Fraser said.