“Even until now, I still remember clearly how I was inspired by the Tang Prize.”
The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. In Taiwan, a place far away from where these two outstanding scientists live, someone was truly excited for them as well, because four years ago, she was one of the few journalists from Taiwan who flew to America and Germany to conduct face-to-face interviews in their offices.
This journalist is Annie Kuo. For 6 years, she worked as a reporter at China Television Company and then as a news presenter at CTi TV. Educated in America and fluent in English, she was able to interview many A-list Hollywood stars including Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Tom Cruise, Milla Jovovich, Paul Rudd, Will Smith, and Céline Dion, only half a year after she got into journalism.
In 2016, she was given a daunting task: travel to different countries to interview 4 Tang Prize laureates. Three pioneers in genome-editing technologies Doudna, Charpentier and Feng Zhang, and Arthur Rosenfeld, also known as “the godfather of energy efficiency.”
Growing up speaking English and later on studying in the States, Annie knew America well, was not worried about language barriers, and did her homework before these interviews. However, even as someone whose horizons were constantly broadened by her trips to many different countries, she was still surprised to find out that there was another world that was so far removed from her day-to-day life and contained something she had never learnt in school.
“This is a big world, and by comparison, we are really small.” Annie had never felt inadequate until she set foot in the offices of these renowned researchers. Being a student in a prestigious university in America was not enough to make her realize that there were still things she had to see and places she had to go. Up until that moment, her knowledge of international affairs mainly came from the news she consumed, and inevitably she felt there was something missing. So, for the first time since finishing school, she started thinking about going back to it for further studies.
“They were very humble!” In these researchers she interviewed, Annie can detect two distinct qualities, perseverance and humility.
Back in 2016, Doudna and Charpentier were not Nobel laureates yet, but it was the time the world had just got to know CRISPR/Cas9, the gene-editing technology they were involved in, and already there was a buzz about their winning a Nobel medal. They had hectic schedules, but both were incredibly patient with Annie, and smiles never faded from their faces when explaining to Annie about their research. As for Feng Zhang, so young and yet already accomplishing so much, he was not someone who likes to put on airs. After learning that there were certain shots Annie would like to include in this filmed interview, he got some of the students in the lab to do all the acting accordingly. Rosenfeld was at an advanced when being interviewed, but he was as thorough as he possibly could. He would ask Annie to repeat his answers to make sure that he was properly understood.
At that time, Annie had to interview more than 20 experts and scholars, including asking Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winner and former U.S. Secretary of Energy, to talk about Rosenfeld’s contribution to energy efficiency. But it was a really tall order to make an appointment with a U.S. government official, and that was the first time she saw a different side of herself.
“I never knew I can be so obstinate.” Anyone can understand it was nearly impossible for a Taiwanese journalist to land an interview with the then California Governor Jerry Brown. Annie did everything she could to make it happen, flying from Taiwan to America, having more than 30 email exchanges and making countless phone calls. She didn’t know whether she had made good until someone rang her right before she left California and said: “Congratulations! You got it!” Then there was this surge of emotion she felt when finally getting to interview these key figures; there was the horror of almost losing that one important disk; and there was the miracle of recovering her lost luggage where the disk was. All the drama made conducting these interviews the hardest job she has ever done.
It was hard work, but the experience of sticking to the end of this project also taught her how to get exclusives more easily. That’s why Annie told us that “even until now, I can still remember clearly how much the Tang Prize has inspired me.”
By Daisy Lee/ English translation by Wei-Hsin Lin