|Lectures by the experts:Nobel Prize Winners and renowned academics celebrate Xiamen University´s 90th Anniversary
|ICE Public:ICE Datetime:2012-5-22
Ten Nobel laureates and two other scholars of international standing were invited to give lectures as part of the celebrations of Xiamen University´s 90th anniversary. The following is a brief account of the lectures.
Professor Mirrlees on global poverty
Professor James Mirrlees, a Nobel Laureate in Economics in 1996, gave a lecture on ´The elimination of poverty´ on the afternoon of April 5th in the Jiannan Auditorium.
Professor Mirrlees began his lecture by explaining the severity and urgency of global poverty, presenting precise figures and clear diagrams to illustrate the various problems on the route to eliminate poverty in the development of mankind. He continued with detailed analyses of such problems as the paradox of population growth against economic development, the relationship between capital investment and economic growth, and how industrialisation pushes forward economies and creates favourable conditions for the reduction of poverty.
In order to exemplify the poverty reduction process in China in light of national conditions, Professor Mirrlees gave a detailed analysis of the current situation in China, and the attainments achieved and obstacles in the way of reducing the levels of poverty.
[Brief biography] Sir James Mirrlees holds an MSc in Mathematics from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in economics from the University of Cambridge. He has taught at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, and he is currently a visiting professor at a number of prestigious universities. He is also consultant to or manager at several authoritative institutions. Sir James was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1999 for his fundamental contributions to the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information.
Professor Mundell on the future international financial system
Professor Robert Mundell, a Nobel Laureate in Economics in 1999, gave a lecture on ´The case for re-stabilising the international monetary system´ on the afternoon of April 5th in the Jiannan Auditorium.
Professor Mundell started his lecture by presenting the major, thought-provoking issues in the current international monetary system. He then briefly reviewed the major monetary systems in history, and displayed a macro diagram of monetary system transformation, centring on the correlation between currencies and gold. After considering the respective advantages and disadvantages of previous monetary systems, Professor Mundell suggested ways in which the current international monetary system could be reformed, and what he envisioned as the balance of major currencies in such systems.
[Brief biography] Robert Mundell is Professor of Economics at Columbia University, President of the World Executive Group and World Brand Lab, and the founder of the ´Theory of optimum currency areas´. He is known as the ´Father of the Euro´, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1999.
Professor Arrow on wealth and health
90-year-old, 1972 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Professor Kenneth J. Arrow gave a lecture on ´Measuring the future: sustainability, wealth and health´ on the afternoon of April 6th in the Lecture Hall on the third floor of the Science and Arts Centre.
Professor Arrow began by giving a brief review of his early research experiences and findings in the 1940s and 50s. He then spoke on several topics centring on the concepts of ´sustainability´, ´wealth´ and ´health´, elaborating on the meaning and measure of wealth, and the relationship between sustainability and wealth, and health as a form of wealth.
[Brief biography] Kenneth Arrow is Professor Emeritus at Stanford University and a well-known mathematical economist in the US. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1972 for his outstanding contributions with Professor John R. Hicks to the general equilibrium theory. In addition to his achievements in the field of general equilibrium, Professor Arrow has done creative work in other areas such as risk decision, organisational economics, welfare economics and democratic theory.
Professor Sharpless on click chemistry
Professor K. Barry Sharpless, a Nobel laureate in Chemistry in 1972, gave a lecture entitled ´Click chemistry evolving-destinations unknown´ on the morning of April 7th in the lecture hall of the Chemistry Building.
Professor Sharpless stated that he was different from most other scholars in that he was committed to the development of ´practical chemistry´ as opposed to fundamental research. He began his lecture with a video clip showing the processes of DNA replication and DNA transcription, revealing a little-known biochemical world.
Professor Sharpless then compared the human evolutionary process to chemical reaction processes. He spoke on the development of click chemistry - chemistry tailored to generate substances quickly and reliably by joining small units together - using the specific example f copper ion catalysed chemical reactions. This led briefly to a discussion of such topics as the discovery of new substances, of how much chemical knowledge a chemist needed to have, and monographs that had had a profound impact on him. He encouraged the audience to find chemistry fun and to enjoy researching into chemistry.
[Brief biography] K. Barry Sharpless is currently Chair Professor of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. In the early 1980s, Professor Sharpless published an epoch-making paper in the field of asymmetric catalysis, which has been named the Sharpless system., The system is regarded as a standard and is widely used in a number of areas. Professor Sharpless shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Professor Knowels and Professor Noyori for their pioneering contributions in the field of asymmetric catalysis.
Professor Phelps on the role of innovation in economies
Professor Edmund S. Phelps, a Nobel Laureate in Economics in 2006, gave a lecture on ´A history of indigenous innovation´ on the afternoon of April 6th in the Lecture Hall in the Science and Arts Centre.
Professor Phelps discussed the role that innovation has played in the different stages of mankind´s development since the 16th century, its contribution to promoting economies, and the correlation between innovation and the natural sciences under a market economy. He the put forward his view that scientific innovation should serve the development of economies, commerce and trade.
Professor Phelps turned to China´s economic development, suggesting that China reached the end of the stage of introducing advanced technology from abroad and entered a phase of independent innovation. However, innovation was never achieved easily and was closely involved with the introduction of new products onto the market, the economic culture, current level of technology, corporate spirit and the sense of responsibility of every ordinary employee. China needed to raise its level of innovation through a range of means, and it was important to establish a system favourable to individual innovation.
[Brief biography] Edmund Phelps is Professor Political Economy at Columbia University and a well-known figure in the field of the theory of employment, growth and accumulation. He is known as the ´Founder of modern macro-economics´ and as one of the most important people who have influenced the developing process of economics. In 2006, Professor Phelps was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his achievements in the field of inter-temporal trade-offs in macro-economic policy.
Professor Bednorz on superconductivity
On April 9th, Professor J. Georg Bednorz, a Nobel Laureate in Physics in 1987, gave a lecture on ´High Tc superconductivity after a quarter century-ready for take-off´ in the Concert Hall of the Science and Arts Centre.
After a brief introduction to his research institute, the IBM Zürich Research Laboratory, Professor Bednorz spoke on the 100-year-history of superconductors. His lecture was into two parts. In the first part he gave a brief review of the first 75 years, during which research on superconductors focussed on its superconductivity at low temperatures, illustrated with examples of the major applications of superconductors in that period. In the main part of his lecture, Professor Bednorz gave a concise introduction to the history of high temperature superconductivity, especially the rapid developments over the last 25 years. Professor Bednorz ended by demonstrating the importance of the discovery of high Tc superconductivity and prospects for its application. His lecture was warmly received the audience, whom Professor Bednorz encouraged to innovate, to challenge convention, and to explore the unknown.
Prior to his main lecture, Professor Bednorz had given a lecture on ´High Tc Superconductivity-a discovery and its impact´ at the Zhangzhou campus on the afternoon of April 6th.
[Brief biography] Professor J. Georg Bednorz was born in Germany in 1950. After receiving his doctorate at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zürich in 1982, he entered the Zürich Research Laboratory. He shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physics with the Swiss physicist Professor K. Alexander Muller for their discovery of superconductivity in the Ba-La-Cu-O layered perovskite compound at comparatively high temperatures of around 35K.
Professor Heck on organic synthesis
Professor Richard F. Heck, a 2010 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, gave a lecture on ´The beginnings of Cobalt and Palladium reagents in organic synthesis´ on the afternoon of April 9th in the lecture hall of the Chemistry Building.
Professor Heck presented the substance of the ´Heck Reaction´ through a combination of precise figures and vivid images. The Heck Reaction is a substitution reaction occurring between an unsaturated halide (or triflate) with an alkene and a base and palladium catalyst to form a substituted alkene. He briefly described the mechanism of the palladium-catalysed cross-coupling reaction through which the palladium atoms made the coalescence of carbon atoms easier with less by-products, hence giving more accurate and efficient reaction results.
Professor Heck stated that his own achievements in the field of organic synthesis were inseparable from years of teamwork by his laboratory fellows. It was their unstinting efforts and the financial support from research funds that had made it possible for him to win the Nobel Prize. Professor Heck also entertained the audience with some anecdotes of his experiences in China.
[Brief biography] Richard F. Heck received his doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1954. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware. He shared the 2010 the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Eiichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for their work on ´Palladium-catalysed cross-couplings in organic synthesis´.
Professor Ciechanover on cancer
The inaugural Xiamen Winter Symposium and Xiamen University 90th Anniversary Life Sciences Seminar, held in the Concert Hall of the Science and Arts Centre on February 21st, was one of the events in celebration of the 90th anniversary of Xiamen University. Professor Aaron Ciechanover, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, gave a lecture on ´Why our proteins have to die so we shall live, or the ubiquitin proteolytic system-from basic mechanisms through human diseases and on to drug development´.
Professor Ciechanover spoke on his discovery of ´ubiquitin-regulated protein degradation´. His discovery actually dated back to the 1970s, but the results were published in an obscure journal. He talked of the prospects of research, saying that, in spite of the development of drugs, cancer would not be cured as easily as a cold even in the foreseeable future. Cancer was comparable to a downpour in that it was complicated and hard to control. If you shut the door, the downpour may enter through the windows; even when you shut the windows, it may come in down the chimney. In the same way, we have to tackle cancer from different angles using different techniques. He said that there was still a long way to go before we would be able to cure cancer with some ´cancer drug´.
Professor Ciechanover told the audience that being awarded the Nobel Prize was the ´least important thing´ for scientists or their country. It was the pursuit of knowledge which was ultimately meaningful.
[Brief biography] Aaron Ciechanover was born in Haifa in what was then Palestine. He earned his MSc in 1971 and graduated from the Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem in 1974. He received his PhD in Biochemistry in 1982 from the Technion in Haifa. In 2004, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery along with Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation.
Yuan-Tseh Lee looks to the future of the mankind
Professor Yuan-Tseh Lee, a Nobel laureate in chemistry in 1986, gave a lecture entitled ´Energy, environment and the future of human´ on the afternoon of April 7th in the lecture hall of the Chemistry Building.
Professor Lee began his lecture by looking at the the initial impact of the industrial revolution, and went on to explore its impact on the environment and on climate change. He said that it was essential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by adopting the following measures: (a) rigorously enforcing energy conservation; (b) improving industrial structure; (c) promoting energy diversification; and (d) changing our life-styles. He said that currently globalisation is forging ahead while a blind eye is turned to political obstacles - in that sense, it should really be termed ´semi-globalisation´. He said that although technological advances would transform human society in the future, we would forever face tough challenges if we didn´t pay particular attention to the roles of science and technology in this ´limited´ and ´semi-globalised´ world. We had to transcend national boundaries, learn to co-operate and improve ´the competitiveness of all mankind´ and join together to solve issues relating to global sustainable development.
Professor Lee insisted that the future of mankind depended on each every individual in all nations and encouraged the audience to opt for a low-carbon life-style.
『Brief biography』Professor Yuan-Tseh Lee was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in conjunction with Dudley R. Herschbach and John C. Polanyi for their research into molecular chemical reaction kinetics. He was the first scientist from Taiwan to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His main research field is chemical dynamics and he has made distinctive contributions in the fields of chemical kinetics, dynamics, molecular beams and photochemistry.
Professor Ada Yonath: interpreting the origin of life and the ribosome
Professor Ada Yonath, the Israeli crystallographer and 2009 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, visited Xiamen University on June 15th and 16th. She gave a lecture on ´The amazing ribosome, its tiny inhibitors and suggestions concerning its prebiotic origin´ on the morning of June 16th in the Concert Hall of the Science and Arts Centre.
The ribosome is referred to as the engineer in the ´chemical plant´ of the human body. It decodes DNA and produces different proteins that control different chemical processes within our bodies. Professor Yonath said that research into the ribosome is ´quite complicated´, and that it was only after 25,000 attempts that she had finally extracted the first three-dimensional ribosome crystal. She said that she had ´always believed that her research was significant enough to win the Nobel Prize.´
Professor Yonath said that one of the importances of revealing the structure of the ribosome is that it gives us the ability to develop a new types of antibiotic to take on the growing resistance to antiviral drugs, as most antibiotics kill bacteria by causing dysfunction of the bacterial ribosomes in vivo.
Although now retired, Professor Yonath spends much of each day doing research. She said she enjoyed doing research and overcoming difficulties.
『Brief biography』Ada E. Yonath is an Israeli crystallographer, best known for her pioneering work on the structure of the ribosome. In 2009, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz for her work on the structure and function of the ribosome. Out of nine Israeli Nobel laureates, she was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and the first woman from the Middle East to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences.
Sir Ian Wilmut on future developments in regenerative medicine
On the afternoon of April 5th, Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, known familiarly as the ´Father of Dolly the Sheep´, and a pioneer in the field of stem-cell research and regenerative medicine, gave a lecture entitled ´From Dolly the Sheep to disease models´ in the lecture hall of the Chemistry Building. He introduced the importance of the successful cloning of Dolly the Sheep for the future development of stem-cell and regenerative medicine.
Professor Wilmut focussed on iPS, the ´induced pluripotent stem-cell´. The iPS was a type of cell originally created by the Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka by transferring a combination of four transcription factors into differentiated somatic cells with viral vectors. By this means the cells were reprogrammed and functioned like embryonic stem cells. He joked that ´Many people say that I´m the father of Dolly, while in fact Yamanaka´s creation of iPS was inspired by me; so technically, I´m rather the grandfather of iPS.´
Professor Wilmut is positive in his backing of iPS, as it avoids the ethical problems raised by the use of transgenic technology. iPS has two great strengths in the areas of organ regeneration and repair and in research into disease patterns and pathogenesis. The development of regenerative medicine holds great promise for the treatment of Alzheimer´s disease, diabetes and other heritable diseases; and by utilising stem-cell techniques, it will be possible to achieve tissue and organ culture.
『Brief biography』Professor Sir Ian Wilmut is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is best known as the leader of the research group that in 1996 first cloned a mammal from an adult somatic cell, a Finn-Dorset lamb named Dolly. Her birth was considered one of the most important scientific achievements of the late 20th century, creating a wave of interest and repeat endeavours across the world. Professor Wilmut was knighted in the 2008 New Year Honours for his fundamental contribution to the field of embryology.
Fields Medallist Professor Zelmanov introduces the development of algebra
Fields Medallist Professor Efim I. Zelmanov of the University of California, San Diego, University
gave a guest lecture at Xiamen University entitled ´A century of Abstract Algebra´ on April 5th.
Professor Zelmanov talked about the development of algebraic theory since the mid-19th century. His lecture covered such questions as the classification of finite simple groups, finite-/infinite-dimensional association algebra, finite-/infinite-dimensional Lie algebra and application of abstract algebra in modern times. Professor Zelmanov worked on infinite-dimensional Jordan algebra in his early years, solving some of the most important problems in Jordan algebra, including the abstruse Glennie´s identity problem, and problems in the infinite-dimensional Lie group. Professor Zelmanov presented vivid examples from daily life to demonstrate the extensive applicability of modern algebraic theory.
『Brief biography』Professor Elfim I. Zelmanov was born in Russia in September 1955. He is well-known for his research results in the combination of non-associative algebra and group theory, and his solution to the Burnside Problem, for which he was awarded the Fields Medal in 1994, at the time the youngest mathematician ever to have won the Fields Medal. The Fields Medal is awarded every four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians in recognition of outstanding mathematical achievements in existing work and promise of future achievements. It is often described as the ´Nobel Prize of Mathematics´.