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Inaugural Nobel Prize Series Singapore 2015

ive Nobel Laureates — Professor Ada Yonath (Chemistry, 2009), Sir Harold Walter Kroto (Chemistry, 1996), Sir James Mirrlees (Economic Sciences, 1996), Professor Stefan Hell (Chemistry, 2014) and Professor Wole Soyinka (Literature, 1986) — were in Singapore for the inaugural Nobel Prize Series, produced by the Nobel Media and the Nobel Museum in partnership with Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Nobel Prize Series aims to stimulate innovation and creative thinking, bringing together Nobel Laureates, other experts and lifelong learners. This unique program combines conference, lectures, roundtables, an exhibition and other meeting spaces. By sharing achievements and stories of Nobel Laureates with a global audience, this official Nobel program inspires engagement in science, literature and peace in line with Alfred Nobel's vision.

Nobel Prize Series Singapore 2015, the first of its kind, was set up to bring together experts to deliberate on critical issues that may arise in future. It featured a main conference and an executive roundtable about "The Future of Learning", four public lectures by the five Nobel laureates incorporating dialogues with students, and an exhibition detailing the history of the Nobel Prize.

The series was launched by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the main conference, where speakers from different fields offered insights into what the future of learning holds. They explored how education systems should evolve to stay relevant in a changing world, and produce people capable of handling the challenges of tomorrow.

Compared with previous Nobel-related events in Singapore, which tend to focus on physics, chemistry and medicine, the series offered a broader scope of topics including literature and economics.

Executive Roundtable Discussion

The two-day program kicked off with the Executive Roundtable Discussion in the morning of 5 November 2015. The five Nobel laureates shared their thoughts on learning, education and their relevance for the future. Some expressed that the traits that should steer the path for the education of tomorrow would include preserving a sense of curiosity, teaching soft skills such as communication and new ways of thinking, and instilling a love for life-long learning.

Professor Lee Sing Kong, NTU Vice President for Education Strategies, said that rapid technological advances, and an "explosion of knowledge" have radically transformed the education landscape and also brought about a different breed of students — an increasingly wired group thriving on interactive, visual experiences to learn. As such, he saw the need to relook at how the curriculum is designed, stressing that it needs to continue to build "new attributes and skills".

Prof Ada Yonath said one way to do so would be to imbue the young with a sense of wide-eyed curiosity. Pointing to how children in Singapore take a more passive approach to learning, often relying on their teachers and the Internet for answers, Prof Yonath said they should "keep on learning, to keep asking questions, and try to answer these questions themselves" .

Citing a Confucian philosophy, Sir Harold Kroto said, "Seek not the answer, but understand the question." He added that most Nobel prize winners were "accidentally made" .

NTU Assistant Professor Juliana Chan, who is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, noted how Singaporeans take "a very pragmatic approach to learning" . She commented that one way to shift from a "book-smart" culture to a critical, interdisciplinary mode of thinking would be to enlist in a course where the answers are open-ended. "Only then we can be exposed to a wider variety views, and learn to think critically, creatively, and ethically," she said.

Industry leaders also pointed out that, first and foremost, graduates need a solid grasp and understanding of knowledge. Stamford Law Chairman Lee Suet Fern said, "One of the frustrations is that though we produce a large pool of graduates — they have soft skills, they can communicate, can network ... but many of them are lacking in intellectual horsepower for the jobs that are required."

Others questioned if these approaches would shake up the fundamentals of the university model itself, raising issues such as whether a graduate would still be relevant in a culture that involves frequent changes in job portfolios.

Olof Zetterberg, Chief Executive Officer of Stockholm Business Region, remarked that entrepreneurship would be a key feature. He noted how youths in Sweden who previously wanted to join companies such as Ericsson and IKEA were now starting their own businesses.

Then Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung reiterated the need for graduates to not only possess academic knowledge, but also be grounded in soft skills to navigate the future, such as "communication, presentation, networking, intercultural linkages" .

The roundtable discussion was held at The Hive, a $45 million learning hub launched by NTU, and attended by leading scientists, policymakers and thought leaders.


The main conference at NTU's Nanyang Auditorium brought together the Nobel Laureates and a group of eminent speakers, including business and government leaders. It was interactive in nature, drawing on the audience's participation.

The first session featured prominent business leader and NTU Board of Trustees Chairman Koh Boon Hwee, Sir Kroto, Prof Yonath and Dr Juliana Chan.

On the panel for the second session were Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee, Sir Mirrlees, Prof Hell, Prof Soyinka, and NTU Assistant Professor Chou Meng-Hsuan, an Associate Fellow at EU Centre Singapore.

Public Lectures

Four public lectures by the Nobel Laureates were concurrently held on 6 November 2015 at NTU, the Singapore Management University (SMU) and the National Gallery Singapore.

Prof Soyinka gave a lecture on Play Footsy with Terror at the NTU School of Humanities and Social Sciences, while Prof Hell spoke about Optical Microscopy: The Resolution Revolution at the NTU School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences.

At SMU, Sir Mirrlees, gave a talk on The Causes of Economic Inequality.

Over at the National Gallery Singapore, a joint lecture on The Relationship between Science and Art was given by Sir Kroto and Prof Yonath.


An international touring exhibition, The Nobel Prize: Ideas Changing the World, was on display at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands from 7 November 2015 to 24 January 2016 to celebrate Nobel Prize-awarded achievements over the decades.

Besides featuring rare artefacts and documents that highlight the groundbreaking discoveries by distinguished Nobel Laureates, the exhibition gave insights into the life of Swedish chemist and innovator Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, and how he laid the foundation for the world's most famous award.

Among the artefacts on display is Alfred Nobel's iconic will, which was digitally brought to life for the first time through Touch Art Gallery technology.

The exhibition also highlighted extraordinary achievements in humanitarian disciplines which were awarded the Nobel Prizes for Literature and Peace, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross that won the Peace Prizes in 1917 and 1944 for its work during the First and Second World Wars.

About Nobel Media AB

Nobel Media spreads knowledge about Nobel Prize-awarded achievements and stimulates interest in science, literature and peace in line with Alfred Nobel's vision and legacy. The company reaches a global audience of millions through its high quality productions within broadcast and digital media which includes the official Nobelprize.org website and podcast, the Nobel Prize Concert, as well as a series of intercontinental, inspirational lecture events featuring Nobel Laureates. The company also manages a portfolio of publishing licenses, footage sales, and live broadcast rights to the Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies.

About Nobel Museum

The Nobel Museum is a museum devoted to circulate information on the Nobel Prize, Nobel Laureates from 1901 to present, and the life of the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel (1833-1896). The Nobel Museum's aim is to spread knowledge as well as to create interest and discussion around the natural sciences and culture through creative learning and exhibition techniques, modern technology and elegant design. Please visit: www.nobelmuseum.se

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