Saturday, August 20, 2005

Korea University: Nobel Laureate Lecture Series VI

Coming up on Thursday, August 25th, 2:00 p.m., at Inchon Memorial Hall, is the sixth in Korea University's series of lectures by Nobel Laureates.

Three speakers will participate, all three winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry, albeit from different years: Alan J. Heeger (2000), Yuan T. Lee (1986), and Ryoji Noyori (2001).

I'm curious how this marathon event will be handled. The earlier lectures usually took about an hour each, plus around a quarter hour for the introduction and a half hour for questions. Let's say an hour and a half. That would put next Thursday's event at four and a half hours.

Such a session would be rather long, so I presume that the format will be different.

I'll be attending, but since I'm currently researching and writing an article on William Langland's use of "kinship" in Passus 18 of Piers Plowman, I won't have much time to read up on their work or think about questions to pose concerning chemistry -- a great loss to the discussion time, no doubt.

For any Seoul residents who read this blog and are planning to attend, here are the lecture topics:

Alan J. Heeger: "Risk and Innovation in Science -- A Personal History of the Journey to the Nobel Prize"

Yuan T. Lee: "Energy, Environment and Responsibilities of Scientists"

Ryoji Noyori: "Molecular Catalysis: Today and Tomorrow"

Given my interests in the history of science and in teaching my students to think creatively, I expect that Heeger's lecture will appeal to me most. Here's what he promises:

I will focus on creativity in science and the close association of creativity with risk-taking in scientific research and in the development of technology. Semiconducting and Metallic polymers are known as the Fourth Generation of Polymer materials. I will recount the early discoveries and the subsequent development of this field all the way to commercial products. The magic of the Nobel Ceremony and festivities will be a highlight of the lecture. I will close with a summary of "life after the Nobel Prize" including a description of some of my current activities in science and technology.

For more about Heeger's life and ideas, see the Nobel Prize site for his biography and his Nobel Lecture.

I don't want to neglect the other two speakers, so here are what they promise. First, Yuan T. Lee:

During the long history of mankind, the planet of earth used to be an infinitely large place. But after the industrial revolution and especially during the twentieth century things have changed dramatically. World population increased from 1.5 billion to 6 billion and the earth has shrunk in relative terms. This sudden transition from "unlimited earth" to "limited earth" has extremely significant consequences, yet the development of human society, moving along the track of infinity for a long time, has not seemed to be able to adapt to the new reality that the earth is "limited." On the "limited earth," perhaps the most important challenges for scientists are problems related to the use of energy and the impact on our living environment. The "developed" countries' patterns of growth, obviously are not ideal models for "not yet overdeveloped" countries to emulate. We need to find a new, sustainable way of development for entire human society on earth, paying special attention to harmonizing the relationship between humankind and nature. This is the first time in human history that all human beings on earth have been faced with learning to work together and live together as one family in a global village. Our future depends entirely on how effectively the entire world would function as a community. This is a necessary awakening -- vital for the survival and sustainable development of mankind.

This sounds like a worthy topic, but Lee might want to consider getting an editor to go over his writing. For those interested in Lee's life and ideas, check again the Nobel Prize site.

Finally, we have Ryoji Noyori:

Chemists are proud of their ability to create highly valuable compounds from inexpensive materials. Our health and daily life rely largely on man-made substances produced by multi-step chemical conversions of petroleum- or biomass-based feedstocks. However, the current standards of chemical synthesis need to be much improved. Many existing chemical processes, though beneficial, produce unwanted wastes along with target products, and inefficient recovery of solvents is an environmental problem. Every reaction should proceed with a high atom-economy, and the overall synthesis must be accomplished with a low E-factor, thereby minimizing the cost of waste disposal. Without such approaches, chemical manufacture is unsustainable in the 21st century. Molecular catalysis plays a key role in achieving this goal. Our research efforts along this line will be discussed.

Another worthy cause. For those interested in Noyori's life and ideas, check again the Nobel Prize site. I probably won't post on this again until after the lectures.


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