Day 5

Friday, 26 January 2018

Creating a Better World Through Science and Technology
Sir Michael Atiyah, Fields Medal (1966)

Sir Michael Atiyah at GYSS 2018

In a plenary lecture that was remarkably distinctive in its contemplative nature, Sir Michael Atiyah asked the audience to ponder on this year’s GYSS theme: Advancing science, creating technologies for a better world. “The important words are ‘creation’ and ‘better world,’” said Sir Michael. “Science and technology are things that enable you to do that.”

But we need to use them wisely, he cautioned. “Deep ideas, important ideas, need thought and wisdom,” he said. “You can have inspiration that doesn’t require much technology.” He quoted from the likes of Shakespeare, Greek mythology and even author Lewis Carroll, saying we have much to learn from the wisdom of our ancestors. To build a better world and to “illuminate dark places with science and technology,” Sir Michael offered the following advice: plant more trees, read and write poetry, and use your time on earth well.

Bridging the Misunderstanding between Science and Industry
Professor Thomas Südhof, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2013)

Thomas Sudhof at GYSS2018

When I talk to people who work for foundations or politicians, I feel there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works,” declared Professor Thomas Südhof at the final plenary lecture of the Summit. “And that misunderstanding is basically that science should produce an immediate translation of results. Which I think is dangerous not only because it can lead to fraud, but also because it supports the wrong kind of science.”

Science and biomedical research shouldn’t be conducted with the expectation that they have to result in therapies quickly, said Professor Südhof. The trick is to ask the right questions and to understand the fundamental nature of diseases so that we can develop drugs which target the source. He concluded: “The culture that is required is really one of curiosity and scholarship that identifies important problems without the necessary expectations that they will lead to any payment in the future.”

Public Lecture: Innovating in Chemistry by Learning from Nature
Frances Arnold, Millennium Technology Prize (2016)

frances public lecture_edited

“When I look at the biological world, I see the best engineers on the planet,” declared Professor Frances Arnold at the beginning of her public lecture at the Nanyang Technological University this morning. Speaking to a packed audience, Professor Arnold explained how her work is inspired by evolution, “the most powerful biological design process,” to use mutations to create new proteins and enzymes.

Such “directed evolution” has resulted in novel enzymes that have useful applications ranging from agriculture to laundry detergent. “Directed evolution will hopefully direct us to solve real problems where we can use biological systems to live sustainably,” said Professor Arnold as her talk drew to a close. “Nature is constantly innovating, it’s not a static thing at all. Innovation comes from this incredible diversity that is already out there in the living world...The internet of living things is your gift, it is a starting point for inspiration for your creativity.”