December 2014 | ISSUE 15
Women in Science: from the Future Leaders Programme

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By Nanyang Associate Professor Juliana Chan

I feel extremely fortunate to have been invited by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to attend the 11th Annual Meeting of the Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum in Kyoto, Japan, as one of its 10 Future Leaders.


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Nanyang Asst Prof Juliana Chan (far left) with fellow young scientists at the 11th Annual Meeting of the Science and Technology Society Forum in Kyoto

More than 1,100 high-ranking diplomats, scientists and senior representatives of grants agencies and industry attended the forum, which ran from 5-7 October 2014. Also in attendance was NTU Provost Professor Freddy Boey, a forum veteran.

Standing out among this group of distinguished experts were 10 of us young scientists, who’d been given this chance to meet the best and brightest.

At the opening ceremony, Mr Koji Omi, founder and chairman of the forum, set the tone for the coming days. “Science and technology issues concern all of us and should not only be discussed by science professionals.” Plenary sessions over the three-day conference saw discussions on topics such as the roles of nanotechnology, big data and social innovation in society among professionals and leaders from a wide-range of fields.

Highlights for me included a talk by Mr Joichi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, who said, “ [Cyber] security is like an immune system: you don’t get stronger by completely shielding yourself from any germs. You have to stress the system to make it better. Here, the stressors are the hackers.”

Professor Shinya Yamanaka, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his central role in the development of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology, shared his inspiring vision for the future: a world where we no longer need blood donors. Instead, artificial red blood cells will be routinely used for blood transfusions. “Japan is an ageing country; in 10 to 20 years we will be short of blood donors. iPSC-derived red blood cells can be one of those alternatives [for blood transfusions],” he said.

These are just a few of the highlights from a truly inspiring three days. I was bowled over by the generosity of my Kyoto hosts. I will fondly remember the ancient shrines nestled against pristine forests, thoughtfully designed bento lunch boxes, and the exquisite culture of Kyoto. I also met nine other young scientists from across the world, from Mauritius to Australia.

But alas, we can only attend the conference once as a Future Leader. I am thankful to NTU for nominating me for this forum, and also NYAS and JSPS for selecting me to attend.