michael gratzel

Molecular Photovoltaics and Perovskite Solar Cells
Michael Grätzel, Millennium Technology Prize (2010)

To keep climate change below disastrous levels, the world needs to scale up its use of solar cells by at least 200 times, said Professor Michael Grätzel in his plenary lecture outlining his pioneering work to create more efficient and lower-cost photovoltaics. He had been inspired by plants’ photosynthesis to invent dye-sensitised solar cells (DSCs) that mimic chlorophyll molecules’ ability to capture light and turn it into electricity. 

He noted that his innovative solar cell, which uses titanium dioxide nanoparticles, was initially met with scepticism. “I used to carry out demonstrations because people didn’t believe the results,” he recalled. Since then, his 1991 scientific paper on the cell has been cited 20,253 times, becoming one of the top 100 papers of all time, and DSCs have been produced in several countries. His laboratory has also been at the forefront of highly-efficient perovskite solar cells, a rapidly-growing field.

aaron ciechanover

The Revolution of Personalised Medicine: Are We Going to Cure All Diseases and at What Price
Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2004

People in developed countries have extended their lifespan by about 30 years on average in the past 120 years, a dramatic improvement that has come with a heavy price, said Professor Aaron Ciechanover in his talk that examined the past, present and future of medicine. “Just walk into any hospital in a developed country and you’ll see that about 90 percent of patients have diseases that are associated with age, such as cancer or vascular diseases,” he said. 

He added that medicine is, in response, already evolving to become more personalised. “The first revolution of drug discovery was mostly incidental. The second revolution was based on the high throughput or brute force screening of large libraries of chemical compounds. Now, medicine in the 21st century will become ever more personalised, predictive, preventive and participatory,” he said. “It will be based on our omics, what makes each of us who we are."

sir fraser stoddart

Doing One’s Own Thing
Sir Fraser Stoddart, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2016)

When Sir Fraser Stoddart was younger, he travelled to Canada to take up a post-doctoral position at Queen’s University. Just before he arrived, he found out that his mentor at the university would be going to Brazil for research for a full year. “Before he left, he told me to tackle a big problem, and then I was left with the marvellous opportunity to do my own thing,” Sir Fraser said in his lecture where he urged young scientists to be original and advocated for them to be given time and space to pursue their passions and curiosity.

“If you want to achieve something that is impactful in science, you need to be recognised widely as having done your own thing. In my research group, the students know that they shouldn’t do ‘Stoddart’ research, they should do their own thing,” he said, highlighting the remarkable discoveries that students in his group had made over the years. He also offered this advice to those in charge of laboratories: “Valuing diversity pays off big time.”

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Public Lecture: The Path to Nobel
Ada Yonath, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2009)

Professor Ada Yonath addressed a crowd of close to seventy people at the National Library this afternoon. Teenage students comprised a large portion of the audience — a demographic that Professor Yonath said she especially likes talking to because it’s an age where people “are still open and can still make decisions about their lives...if I can have some influence over this, this is a great joy to me.”

She shared the story of her growing-up years in Israel, and how her family placed an emphasis on education despite struggling financially. “But the process [of science] is much more important than me and my childhood, because the process is universal,” Professor Yonath said. Anything is possible if you have passion, and you must never stop believing in yourself, even if other doubt you, she advised.

“Before the Nobel Prize, a large part of the scientific world would make jokes about me...they called me the dreamer, had all types of names for me,” she recalled. “But if you ask me if it disturbed me, the answer is no. The work was so demanding, the problem so complicated that it took up all of my time… For me, the discovery was the satisfaction.”