Frontiers type interdisciplinary conference

http://www.informatik.uni-trier.de/~ley/db/conf/fbit/fbit2007.html

Project aims:

To bring awareness of all of the branches and new branches that merge biology, anatomy, medicine, mathematics, physics, computation, and information science

Objectives:

Reuse of tactics or strategy. In other words, people in one field might be encountering the same fundamental problem as people in another field. Algorithms developed for one problem may find reuse in the other. The idea was to get people out of their specific area talking to one another or helping each other or learning from one another.

Summary of activity:

I kept contacting people starting from Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, and Oxford down the list in order to get four exciting speakers in the interdisciplinary cross-roads: in the end I obtained speakers from NASA’s JPL, Oxford University and KAIST in South Korea.

Evaluation approach:

The number of participants were in excess of 150 and many branches of these sciences were represented. The Korea Information Security Agency contributed 10,000 USD for prizes and a leading industrialist praised the conference. Oxford University mathematical biology established a collaboration with Korean KAIST systems biology when they touched base at the event and to my mind this sort of thing demonstrated the success of the project. The project was risky because the participants were from such disparate fields of science but somehow it held together well.

What went well:

1. Plenary Speeches very well attended

2. People turned up to the conference (very few no-shows)

3. People attended lectures outside of their area of interest thus learning laterally about the world around them

What was learned:

1. I am guessing that pupils and teachers at school do not know of the potential of these subjects because they are so current and there is little effort to communicate them to the world at large. It is entirely possible that by the time pupils graduate from school or from college, there will be buildings that grow walls; many foods made by genetically modified bacteria in a vat rather than grown on soil, and many more technical and scientific innovations. Without a technical education young people will not have access to this realm of possibilities to grow activities and endeavours in the genomics and nanotechnology revolutions. They need to study Chemistry and Physics, Computer Science and Maths. The JPL NASA plenary speaker gave a glimpse of our not too distant future of trans-humans and the relationship to bionics wetware and humanoid robots. All of the fields that were developed at the congress (and their interaction) will deliver jobs in the future and our kids and our schools must know about these developments in science.

2. That interdisciplinary effort is key to economic progress. Two people of the same profession forming a partnership will have excellent communication skills with each other, but something perhaps less exciting to offer than two people who do not communicate well because they come from two separate professions to offer something new. While it is true that communicating is important, it is healthy to see people who do not communicate well working together for that is the key to innovation and standard of living improvement. It would seem to me that we should encourage people to try to form interdisciplinary teams such that the activity is disruptive succeeds commercially, and can promote innovation.

3. Given the rapid progress of science and medicine and engineering that I witnessed at this event, it is my view that young people should receive an education in preference to training. This is because the theory (a handful of golden rules and principles which are few in number but essential for science) can be applied to different problems, and so it may be the most important thing we can give to them: an ability to chose and to follow their passion (to go and create the future world using theory, we must give them the theory as tools rather than training them to learn specific things). Science today empowers the individual to change the world. The world from now on will change fast.

Top tips and advice for others

1. Let PhD scientists with research track records come to the schools and inspire the kids rather than mostly working professionals from companies and business. If we want to bring the business into science then the future business does not yet exist. Young people will have jobs which we cannot imagine what they are going to be today. These are new types of jobs that they will create through the rapid advancement of science. So we need people with research track records to come to talk to young people to show them the way, and to inspire them to acquire the scientific knowledge that is today required to participate in the world. We are going back to the times when education was about doing that which rallies your emotions and excites you because science engineering and technology will create new industries at the drop of a hat and almost anything is now possible.

2. The world of science and medicine is progressing at an astounding rate. However, it is guided by a handful of principles, very few in number. For example, tricks to constrain a search space to fewer possibilities. Such principles are widely applicable and so we should teach those rather than memorization. We should bring leading edge problems such as mitochondria seen with fluorescent proteins lost with advanced age, to the kids so they can see that halting aging is today almost possible, to give them control of their lives and destinies rather than present a more commercial view of the planet.

3. After attending all of the talks I realized that there are breakthroughs in many fronts to add to the breakthroughs in opto-electronics that people see in ICT. The breakthroughs of Biology are astounding and will have far reaching consequences. We must abandon certain beliefs and not remain set in our ways to allow young people to participate actively in this new world that will be forged by science.

About the contributor

Daniel Howard
Howard Science Limited

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