Sunday , 18 February 2018

Nobel Laureates share their knowledge with students

The Nobel Prize Series India 2018, on Friday gave students the opportunity to have a dialogue with Nobel Laureates on the topics: ‘Education and Research for Growth’ and ‘Restructuring Education and Research’ held at Kala Academy.

In the first session on ‘Education and Research for Growth’, the moderator was CEO of Nobel Media, Mattias Fyrenius and the participants were Nobel Laureates Richard Roberts, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and the chairman of the Nobel Foundation, Carl-Henrik Heldin.

Fyrenius began the session by asking the Nobel Laureates about their curiosity that derived them to their respective field. To which, Roberts replied: “I had a long-standing love for bacteria. The bacteria are one of the simplest living things. But one always thinks that if you can study something simple then you may be able to understand it and one of the things I like about bacteria are that they are absolutely essential for all of life not just for their own.”

Roberts also said that there are many bacteria living with us and if you kill those bacteria you too will die. He added: “Everyone thinks that bacteria are not good but 99.9 per cent of all the bacteria living with us are very good, they are trying to keep us healthy and I am curious to know how they are able to do that because this suggests that if they can do it, may be as humans we can use it to make better medicines that could revolutionise the practice of medicine.”

Talking about her curiosity, Volhard said that for a long time people have not wondered why animals are so prettily coloured and with so many patterns. She said: “I started thinking about this problem about 10 years ago and it turned out that no one really knows how these colours are made in animals and this is a fascinating issue.”

While Heldin said that he always wanted to be a physician to cure people with various diseases. He said: “We have made discoveries which make it possible to cure certain types of cancer. We are able to produce new treatment for various cancers but cancers seem to come back because of their resistance mechanisms. So my major current curiosity is to learn about the resistance mechanisms and how can we find ways to cure patients with cancer.”

During the session, Roberts also pointed out that children are not encouraged to be curious. He says: “When children are young they are curious about everything that is around, as they grow older curiosity also grows but unfortunately a lot of children when they go to school, their curiosity is not much developed because teachers want them to focus on something else.”

Roberts further said that parents should not be over protective about their children and should let them make mistakes. He says: “Children who grow up in farms, gets covered in dirt turn out to be healthy as comparison to those who are constantly sterilised because one needs to expose children to anti-germs that are there in the dirt to develop properly.” He added that people who do not make mistakes or fail at things usually do not do very well. Failures are a good thing.

When the audience was given a chance to ask questions, Arya from Agra asked what existence means to a scientist to which Heldin replied that we are developing as a species and we will live eternally through our DNA that is passed on to our children.

The question of decision making was also discussed in the dialogue, wherein Heldin asked those present to follow their interests, passion, ambition and curiosity to whatever they want to do in life.

Another question the moderator asked was whether children should focus in studies in Goa or should they study abroad and then come back. To this Heldin strongly encouraged children to finish school in Goa and then go abroad for additional training. Roberts said: “I left England and went to the US to do my work and later I tried getting back to England but I could not as sometimes it is difficult to get back to where you came from; but it is very much worth trying.”

Christiane said that is important to choose an equal and free environment and this is not only found in England or US; in India also there are very good universities where one can do excellent studies and training.

In the next session on ‘Restructuring Education and Research’, the moderator was secretary of the department of Biotechnology, professor K Vijay Raghavan and Nobel Laureates, Serge Haroche and Tomas Lindahl.

Raghavan began the session by asking Haroche if there something we should do from the policy end to build enthusiasm about science to have greater interaction between students and researchers. Haroche replied: “In all over the world we need to have a good education system because the population at large should be trained and educated. The most important point of education is that we should prepare young people to keep learning.”

Haroche added that it is very important that society recognises the values of science because science will be essential to solve the problems which humanity will face in future.

When asked whether scientific views are self questioning, Lindahl stated that scientists are not the people that sit in front of the computers for hours, in fact they interact with people and also tend to make mistakes, on which they work thoroughly and that eventually leads towards discoveries.

On replying to a query based on first direct detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) which got the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017, Haroche in his explanation said that gravitational waves are ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the universe. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity.

Student, Stacy asked Lindahl whether cancer is just a disease or deficiency of metabolism and if it’s true for all cancers or certain cancers. Lindahl said: “Cancer is a disease caused by one or more mutations in the cells of our body and we need to define those mutations.”

He added that there are multiple hypotheses which say that you can cause these mutations by metabolic defects, environmental agents and so on but the consequence of a combination of factors funnels into the DNA and mutations in specific regions and genes can result in cancer. “There are many types of cancers and each one of them is caused by different set of mutations in different genes.”

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