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Highlights – Day Two at GYSS



What is Constructive Mathematics and Why it is Important

Vladimir Voevodsky, Fields Medal (2002)

Constructive mathematics is the belief in mathematics as the basis of the structure of our world. Pure mathematician and Fields Medal winner ProfessorVladimir Voevodsky is a strong advocate that constructive mathematics can explain how the world works. It is the ultimate reality in which our everyday life is built around, he said. One day, philosophers may even accept the concept that our very existence can be explained with constructive mathematics, he continued.


Professor Voevodsky won the Fields Medal, considered the most prestigious prize in mathematics, for his advances in algebraic geometry in 2002. These days, he focuses on developing software that mathematicians use to do proofs. His work resulted in the creation of automated proof assistant Coq. While classical mathematics take precedence as it is the main form of mathematics taught in schools, ProfessorVoevodsky said constructive mathematics is becoming more visible as it is closely connected to the computer language. He theorised that one day, mathematicians will not consider a theorem proven until a computer has verified it.




The Two Pillars of Physics: Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity

David Gross, Nobel Prize for Physics (2004)

Physics professor David Gross gave an overview of how quantum mechanics and general relativity, which are widely considered to be the two pillars of physics, have developed from the time of Albert Einstein till today. These pillars are revolutions in the way we think about physical reality, and they continue to perplex us to these day, said Professor Gross.


Professor Gross won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004 for his contributions to understanding the fundamental forces of nature. Most notably, his theory of quantum chromodynamics, or QCD, allowed for the calculations of strong interactions.




Towards Next Generation Antibiotics

Ada Yonath, (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, (2009)

The medical world is worried that diseases are becoming increasingly resistant to drugs, so much so that major pharmaceutical companies are focusing less on researching and developing new antibiotics to combat infectious illnesses.  Renowned crystallographer Professor Ada Yonath and her team at the Weizmann Institute of Science see this as an opportunity. 


Professor Yonath and her colleagues successfully mapped the structure of ribosomes in a project spanning over 30 years. Today, with 3D imaging of the ribosome, scientists can take a deeper look at ribosomes and identify the structural bases for antibiotics resistance. New findings have revealed the various modes of binding and action of these antibiotics, which enables scientists to decipher mechanisms leading to resistance.


For example, Professor Yonath found that ribosomal antibiotics are too small to be digested properly and as a result, are released into the environment. These indigestible parts are toxic and when passed through the food chain, lead to increased resistance to antibiotics. This discovery would catalyse scientists into making antibiotics that are degradable andeco-friendly, and may potentially slow the path to antibiotics resistance.




Quantum Liquids

Sir Anthony Leggett, (Nobel Prize for Physics, 2003)

Sir Anthony Leggett told young scientists how he was able to explain superfluidity, a state in which matter behaves like a fluid with zero friction, which manifests itself in counterintuitive movements that defy the forces of gravity and surface tension.


He said that, "Because particles behave like waves, it is impossible to tag them. Yet, it is the very property of indistinguishability which is crucial to the property of quantum physics."


While being able to explain superfluidity in itself did not have immediate applications, the understanding of it led to new discoveries. "No one imagined that out of superfluid study in the 70s, that you’d get high temp super conductors," said Sir Anthony. "There really is an enormous cultural benefit in its applications."




Energy Beyond Oil

Michael Grätzel, Millennium Technology Prize (2010)

Physical chemistry professor Michael Grätzel has an outstanding body of work relating to finding alternative sources of energy through the use of sunlight. One of these is his creation of the dye-sensitised solar cell, a low-cost solar cell inspired by photosynthesis. Also known as the Grätzel cell, Professor Grätzel believes that it could one day replace the finite fossil fuels as the go-to source of energy.


The Grätzel cell is slowly becoming a commercially viable product. Solar cell technology company GCell, on which Professor Grätzel is an advisory board member, has come up with a number of consumer products that uses dye-sensitised solar cell. One of these products is the Grätzel Solar Backpack, which can power up mobile devices using energy from the sun.




Panel Discussion - Science and the Society

Aaron Ciechanover (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2004), Michael Grätzel (Millennium Technology Prize winner, 2010), Butler Lampson (Turing Award, 2004), and Sir Anthony Leggett (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2003)

Eminent scientists, in a lively discussion on ‘Science and the Society’ led by Professor Bertil Andersson, President of the Nanyang Technological University, discussed the challenges of communicating science publicly and politically, and how science has evolved into a culture of bibliometrics with a lack of peer review and oversight, which all the panellists are firmly against.


Professor Ciechanover remarked that science and the public go together and it is intrinsic, adding that talking to the public and to politicians is extremely important. By leveraging the Nobel Prize, I am talking to the public in my own way, he said.


Professor Grätzel related that he was once challenged by a journalist to explain why people did not know him, despite the accolades and citations he had received. This got him thinking. He shared, “How you disseminate your work turned out to be an important thing – I had to learn to communicate that, when I originally thought the question was irritating.”


As Professor Lampson surmised, scientists do not understand what they have to do to keep the public trust, but they know too well what the consequence is of losing it.




Milennium Technology Prize Lecture

Juha Ylä-Jääski, President and CEO of Technology Academy of Finland

Dr Juha Ylä-Jääski said during a special lecture that the tech space around the world is experiencing a shift from large corporates to small start-ups, and most disruptions coming to market come from smaller start-ups. He urged participants to apply for the Technology Academy of Finland's flagship Millennium Technology Prize, which recognises disruptive technologies that create positive impacts on peoples' lives.

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