Inspiring Interactions at GYSS 2019

08 Feb 2019

Singapore hosted the seventh edition of Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) last week. The annual event centres around the theme “Excite, Engage, Enable,” providing a platform for promising young scientists to interact with eminent researchers and technology leaders of today.

This year’s summit saw more than 200 early-career researchers gathering from 20 to 25 January at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). There, they had the opportunity to interact and learn from 16 prize-winning speakers — ten Nobel Prize laureates, three Fields Medallists, two winners of the Millennium Technology Prize, and one Turing Award recipient. The speakers represented a wide range of disciplines including physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering and computer science. 

“GYSS is an expression of the belief that there is benefit in providing a platform for fostering exchange among scientists of different generations, cultures and disciplines,” said Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, patron of the summit and Singapore’s former president.

“There is so much gathering of talent both in the audience and in the speakers,” said 2012 Turing Award winner Professor Silvio Micali, who delivered the summit’s opening plenary lecture. “It is really invaluable to have the ability to participate in debate in so many topics, with so many experts.”

Synergy and spark

First launched in 2013 by Singapore’s National Research Foundation, GYSS was designed with the vision of connecting bright young researchers with like-minded peers as well as with eminent scientists. The hope is that these interactions will excite and inspire young scientists to pursue their scientific dreams, and to apply their minds to research that addresses serious global challenges and future needs of mankind, such as harnessing renewable energy and tackling climate change. 

“You should realise that the young scientists who are here...they will create our future,” said Professor Ben Feringa, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, at the summit. “They can learn from us and it’s really great to share our experiences with the young stars that will shape our future.”

Over five days, the young scientists exchanged ideas with the distinguished speakers in a series of interactions ranging from plenary lectures, panel discussions, poster presentations, small group sessions and informal chats during breaks. 

“The small group sessions were particularly interesting because there was more interaction and we had one-on-one time with the speakers and they gave us a hint of what it is like to reach wherever they are pre- and post-Nobel Prize,” said GYSS participant Triveni Menon from Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. 

Many speakers, like Professor Feringa, shared their personal journey towards science as a career, and also the path that led them to their breakthrough discovery. “It’s an adventure into the unknown that requires some serendipity and luck,” said Professor Feringa in his plenary lecture. To the young participants, he advised: “Follow your confident!”

Ka Ming Fung from the Chinese University of Hong Kong was one participant who took heed. “When I listen to the Nobel Prize winners, I can sense the passion from them,” he said.

Apart from inspiring the participants, the speakers also helped spark new ideas. “I found GYSS really helpful,” said Alice Judith Fillen from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “I got the opportunity to talk to the leaders in the field...There’s been a lot of discussion. I’ve come up with some great new research ideas that I really hope I get to pursue afterwards.”

A sense of science in Singapore 

Beyond the sessions held at NTU, GYSS participants also visited numerous sites to learn more about Singapore’s local research and innovation ecosystem. These included trips to the local universities, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore City Gallery, and NEWater Visitor Centre, among others. The visits were organised to showcase the important role science and innovation has played, and continues to play, in Singapore’s economic and social development, as well as how it has helped the island nation overcome its natural constraints.

The participants also had the chance to experience the sights and sounds of Singapore, visiting iconic spots such as Gardens by the Bay, the Singapore Flyer, and Marina Bay. They also spent time soaking up the nation’s multicultural heritage by wandering through the historical enclaves of Little India and Kampong Glam. 

In addition to inspiring up-and-coming researchers, the speakers interacted with members of the public — secondary school and junior college students, undergraduates, and curious adults — through a series of public lectures held at the National Library and various local education institutions. The talks covered topics ranging from blockchain and cryptography, to how science and art together help shape the face of humanity.

“I think this kind of event is very valuable for the appreciation of science,” said Dr Tuomo Suntola, winner of last year’s Millennium Technology Prize.

Essentially, it’s about bringing people together, the connections they form and the synergy that arises from these interactions. 

“In today’s world, I think science and technology is more of connecting with other people, because different people speak different languages and have different cultures,” said GYSS participant Tariq Khan from the University of Malakand in Pakistan. 

“But when it comes to science and technology, the culture and language becomes one.”