tim hunt

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

Young researchers should collaborate with others and embrace unexpected opportunities in their scientific careers, said Sir Tim Hunt during his plenary lecture which summarised his journey from being a curious student to winning the Nobel Prize. “You just never know, in my experience, what twists and turns may happen to you. If you see a chance, grab it, because it may never come around again. It’s really important to just go for it,” he said. 

He added that he had benefited tremendously from a sound work ethic and from listening to both his mentors and his peers. He gave this advice to scientists at the start of their career: “What will happen to you will depend very much on where you are, what you’re working on and who you’re working with, but you also need to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep working hard at what you think is interesting.”

efim zelmanov

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

Mathematics is both an elitist art and one that affects people worldwide, said Professor Efim Zelmanov during his talk which traced the impact of the field. “Few people can understand a mathematical proof’s beauty, but mathematics has been an essential part of technological progress for the past 2,000 years,” he said. “It has been crucial for space missions, cryptography and automatic link establishments in high-frequency radios, for example.”

He noted that mathematics has been and continues to be well-funded in many countries, but there is always the question whether grant agencies will start to support only research that has the potential to result in applications. “That would be a mistake,” he said. “Mathematics is like a plant: all of its parts are related and feed one another. If you cut out the ‘unneeded’ parts, you will kill the whole plant.”

michael levitt

A Wonderful Life in Science
Michael Levitt, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2013)

Over the past 50 years, computers have become smaller, more powerful and less expensive by orders of magnitude, enabling scientists to develop increasingly sophisticated models and simulations to predict the structure and functions of proteins, said Professor Michael Levitt. Giving a plenary lecture on his seminal career in the field, he noted that “building a physical model of a small protein used to be like doing a 3D jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces”.

“Compared to about 60 years ago, we now have 1,000,000,000 times more resources, systems have become 100 times larger and runs have become 10,000,000 times longer. My field has been super-accelerated by advances in technology, and who knows where we’ll be in 2020,” he said, adding that it was an exciting time for young scientists. To them, he said: “Be passionate, be persistent, be original and, most of all, be kind and good to one another.”

claude cohen- tannoudji

Polarising, Cooling and Trapping Atoms with Laser Light
Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Nobel Prize in Physics (1997)

Light is not only a source of information but can be used to manipulate atoms, asserted Professor Claude Cohen-Tannoudji during his plenary lecture which spanned his and other scientists’ efforts in the field. By deploying lasers to cool, slow and trap atoms, researchers can study them in more detail, potentially unlock new applications and materials, and even improve existing services such as global positioning systems, he said. 

“With the invention of lasers and new ways of manipulating atoms, such as optical pumping and laser cooling, we have been able to open up new research fields, ask new questions and investigate new systems and new states of matter,” he said. “The history of light and matter shows that basic research can change our vision of the world by introducing conceptual revolutions and leading to a wealth of unexpected practical applications.”


Panel Discussion: The Human Side of Science
Ben Feringa, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2016)
Laurent Lafforgue, Fields Medal (2002)
Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2001)
Tuomo Suntola, Millennium Technology Prize (2018)

Science is more than just cold facts, hypotheses and experiments, said renowned scientists at a panel discussion on the second day of GYSS. “Science provides the necessary knowledge for technology, for example, but technology is ultimately guided by people. We must be responsible for guiding science and technology so that they are sustainable and belong to everyone,” Professor Tuomo Suntola said. 

For science to flourish, scientists must also embrace collaboration across borders and disciplines, and communicate the importance and potential impact of their work to laypeople, the panellists added. Professor Ben Feringa summarised: “Nowadays, you hear some people saying that science is only an opinion. It isn’t. We need to do a better job of saying what the role of science is and why science is important, because it is absolutely critical to the world.”


Public Lecture: Science Meets Art: How to Shape the Future of Humanity
Ben Feringa, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2016)
Maestro Michelangelo Pistoletto

At first glance, this evening’s panellists appear to have little common ground. Professor Ben Feringa is a Nobel Laureate who invented molecular motors while Maestro Michelangelo Pistoletto is an influential Italian contemporary artist. But as moderator Professor Helga Nowotny, Former President and Founding Member of the European Research Council, pointed out in her opening statements: “What the two share is a passion for what they do — a passion for science, for art, and for creating.”

Her astute comments set the direction for much of the discussion that followed, which centred largely around the theme of imagination and creativity. “Creativity is something we are born with, but we have to learn how to use it,” said Maestro Pistoletto. And how do we learn to be creative and generate ideas, asked Professor Nowotny, “because ideas do not fall from heaven.”

It’s partly about “getting lost in the paradise of knowledge,” said Professor Feringa. Observing the world around you, daydreaming, and “asking the questions of why and how to create things that nobody else has created.” And while it’s also important to “walk on the foundation of all the thinkers and dreamers before us… we shouldn’t take everything for granted as there is endless space to be creative.”

While the freedom to create new things is an incredible privilege, it is also one that must not be taken lightly, agreed the two panellists. “What do you do with your freedom?” asked Maestro Pistoletto. “The artist today has to take responsibility in all sectors of life.” Creators also have to make sure that whatever they invent “should be something that connects to society,” said Professor Nowotny.

Summing up the session, Professor Feringa said: “Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit...but creativity and imagination are the only sustainable things in life.”