I had no idea what to expect from this meeting. It turned out to be one of the most revealing and eye-opening experiences that I have ever had. I met and interacted with some of the most interesting young scientists in the world. A misconception that was summarily dispelled is that I might not have very much in common with a group of about 55 people from 40 countries. On the contrary, I was surprised how well I could relate to almost every Young Scientist whom I met—not only with regards to scientific interests, but including travel experiences, common acquaintances, sports, cultural inclinations, and even humor.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
With a late arrival to Tianjin, I missed much of the “Young Scientist Welcome Activities,” but still managed to meet several of my Young Scientist colleagues. This special introductory session was followed by a Young Scientists Welcome Reception and Dinner hosted by the City of Tianjin and the World Economic Forum. Among others, I was seated at a table with Lynn Loo (YS, USA), Rees Kassen (YS, Canada), and Howard Alper (IAP Co-Chair, Canada). Oddly, I was rather familiar with Howard’s research since he is an organometallic chemist and his work provided inspiration and precedence for one of my early professorial research proposals.
The morning began with a “Meeting with Ministers of Science and Technology,” which was a private session between the Technology Pioneers, Young Scientists, and Ministers of Science and Technology from around the world, hosted by Minister Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China.
Following this session, I attended the “Climate Challenge” session, which featured Lykke Friis, the Danish minister of Climate and Energy. This meeting followed closely after the Climate Change email leaks from the University of East Anglia and thus, proved to be a lively and interesting session with contentious questions from the audience.
The Young Scientists attended an afternoon session titled “Advancing Green Technologies for Sustainability,” which was a collaborative brainstorming workshop of the Young Scientists and Young Global Leaders to explore new and innovative ways of advancing green technologies for sustainability. This session was probably the highlight of the AMNC for me and for many other Young Scientists. During the breakout session, I found myself sitting across from famed Chemistry Professor Michael Grätzel. It was his duty to select one person from the group to present to the entire session on a particular innovation for green technology. Possibly because I discussed a chemical innovation, he chose me to present and I then discussed our research and potential of using new, lignin-based plastics to replace polyesters—specifically the polyethylene terephthalate employed in the ubiquitous water bottle.
Near the end of the YS/YGL session, I had a short but memorable encounter with Global Young Leader, Natalia Allen, a fashion designer and founder of Design Futurist. She approached me and posed a straightforward, but salient question: “Can you spin this polymer into fibers and make textiles for clothing?” I normally am focused on simple packaging applications and much less concerned with fibrous applications. Nonetheless I responded affirmatively and we exchanged business cards. About ten days after the AMNC meeting I received a reminder email about the WEF Young Scientist/Entrepreneur Partnership Award, which offered a $10,000 prize for business collaborations that originated at the WEF/AMNC. I found Natalia’s card and sent her an email stating that it might be worthwhile to apply for this award. The application was just a few pages and it seemed we had little to lose. As I wrote the initial draft, it became apparent that Natalia was rather prescient with her question to me as the marketing potential for “eco-friendly synthetic fibers” is considerable. We did submit an application and we did win one of two awards given in 2010. Click here to view a pdf of the award application. (The other was awarded to Young Scientist colleague Yael Hanein and her YGL collaborator.) From a simple one-minute conversation at the YS/YGL joint session, the partnership between Florida Sustainables and Design Futurist to bring sustainable synthetic textiles to the apparel market was created.
That evening, all WEF/AMNC participants were invited to the Cultural Soiree. This was held at Italian Style Town, an outdoor area of Tianjin that is best described as a combination China, Italy, and Disney World. The visual displays, shows, and hospitality were truly amazing.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Many of the Young Scientists attended a joint session (in the YGL WorkSpace) with the Social Entrepreneurs. We discussed topics of “working successfully together” and I was part of a breakout session that dealt with the topic of “Sustainable Sourcing and Sustainable Living.” That breakout session also included the President and CEO of Metabolix, Richard Eno. His company and my research group have very similar objectives in creating sustainable plastics.
In the afternoon I decided to take an excursion to Beijing. Professor Tao Jiang, from the Tianjin University of Science and Technology, was my guide and host. Tao had previously arranged to visit my lab at the University of Florida on sabbatical (and in fact completed this sabbatical in 2011). This was my first chance to meet him and he picked me up from the Meijiang Convention Center and we drove to the Tianjin train station. Here we purchased tickets (first class, only $11) for the Tianjin-Beijing Intercity Railway, which took us to Beijing in about 45 minutes at speeds over 200 mph. Click here to see a video of the Chinese countryside from the Intercity Railway. We then took the city subway to central Beijing, where we first ate at the Peking Duck and then walked to Tiananmen Square. We walked around the Square, but were too late to enter the Palace. We did not stay very long in Beijing since I had some planned evening social events back in Tianjin, including a karaoke session with the Young Scientists at a facility not far from our hotel called Club Coco.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The official events of the WEF at the Meijiang Convention Center concluded on Wednesday and Thursday was scheduled with Young Scientist private events. We spent most of the morning at the Young Scientist Debrief and Wrap-Up. This allowed us to reflect on the events of the previous days, provide feedback, and plan for the next steps of the third Cohort of IAP Young Scientists.
In Tianjin, the 2010 AMNC Young Scientists were tasked with creating a Legacy Project and I eventually became a champion for one of the ideas. Lynn Loo (also a Young Scientist from the USA) and I were the principal authors of a charter document that aims to establish the Young Scientist Ambassador Program (YSAP).
Much of the brainstorming for this proposal happened during lunch periods and freetime throughout the meeting, but the program coalesced during the Debrief and Wrap-Up session when about twenty Young Scientists convened (others worked on other legacy proposals) to discuss objectives and specific future tasks. Seven Young Scientists (Arsen, Charles, Lynn, Javier, Maryam, Steve, and Marvadeen) volunteered to be on the YSAP Advisory Committee. When I returned to the U.S., I created a website for the Program (http://www.chem.ufl.edu/~miller/YSAP/) and that has served as the nexus for obtaining information and establishing connections. As stated in the charter, the YSAP is designed to promote the efforts of AMNC 2010 Young Scientists to bridge the international scientific gap by facilitating cultural, scientific, intellectual, or educational interactions. The ambassadorships must be non-traditional; that is, interaction must occur between two countries that are at different stages of scientific development, or between two countries that historically have had minimal scientific contact.
As of September 2011, two Young Scientists (Caradee and Steve) have completed Ambassadorships. Caradee (from South Africa) visited La Reunion Island and I visited Indonesia. The YSAP was initially designed specifically for the AMNC 2010 Young Scientists, but future cohorts of AMNC Young Scientists are encouraged to participate fully. In fact, during the March 2011 Global Young Academy – General Assembly, the GYA adopted the Young Scientist Ambassador Program and thus, it is now available to all GYA members and AMNC Young Scientists.
Our Thursday Young Scientist Farewell Lunch was followed by an excursion to the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. (Half of the Young Scientists went on a different tour, which included an industrial visit.) The Institute was about 50 miles outside of central Tianjin and we were escorted there, on cleared freeways. The number of people who were blocked from entering the freeway during our trip easily numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The Institute was part of a planned research park. It was clear that they did not lack for funding but as we toured, the enormous facility seemed rather empty with regard to personnel.
Following the Institute visit, the Young Scientists visited Nankai University, one of the best in all of China. Here, we toured some of the teaching labs and I met a Chinese Chemistry Professor who had studied organic chemistry at UC Berkeley. Click here to see a video of our laboratory tour. In another building on the campus, we attended the Academic Report of Young Scientists. Two Young Scientists gave scientific presentations here, including Charles.
Our last official event was the Young Scientist Farewell Party, hosted by the City of Tianjin. The performances were numerous and impressive. Click here to view a show by Chinese Violinists. During the program, Javier and I were chosen from the audience to go on the stage and receive prizes, which were sculpted Chinese figurines in a glass case. At the end of the event, we took a group photograph of the Young Scientists with the performers.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Professor Tao Jiang wanted to arrange for me to give a seminar before my departure. His university was too far away, so we drove to Hebei University of Technology, where Bin Liu is a professor and hosted me for a brief visit that morning. The traffic (without the police escorts and stopped traffic) was unbearable and I was fairly certain that I would miss the airport bus that departed my hotel later that morning. We eventually arrived on the Hebei campus, I met Professor Liu, and I delivered a seminar on our mutual scientific interest, olefin polymerization. It was great to establish this additional contact in China; Professor Liu will visit my lab on sabbatical at the University of Florida in 2012. And yes, I did make the airport bus and I spent much of my return trip contemplating the amazing experiences of the previous week.
I was encouraged by Greg and others to apply to the Global Young Academy, an organization that was founded as the legacy of the 2009 AMNC Young Scientists and serves as “the voice of young scientists around the world.” I submitted my application a few weeks after the 2010 AMNC. I was thrilled to be admitted as one of thirty-two new members of the second class of the Global Young Academy. Many of the new members attended the AMNC and my participation in the 2010 AMNC absolutely inspired me to continue this rewarding pathway involving international service and friendships with young scientists from around the world.