This September 24 the newest recipients of the Tang Prize gathered in Taipei for a series of lectures. The Tang Prize Laureate Lectures were held at the Howard Civil Service International House, where each recipient was invited to speak on the accomplishments that won them the recognition of the prize.
One of two recipients in absentia, Arthur Rosenfeld was represented at the event by a former student and a close friend to this day, Ashok Gadgil, who is himself an expert in water and energy. Gadgil recounted his mentor’s life and the work that has won numerous accolades, including the 2011 US National Medal of Technology and Innovation and the 2016 Tang Prize, in his lecture, entitled “Key Lessons from Dr. Art Rosenfeld: how to solve hard real-world problems and make a sustainable world.”
“He has an amazingly important knack of looking at a complicated, multidisciplinary, multidimensional problem, and figuring out what is the right question to ask,” Gadgil explained. It was Rosenfeld’s ability to cut to the core of the problem by asking the right questions that brought about a massive change in how energy is both seen and used. Those changes have caused energy use in California to plateau, which itself has helped to mitigate environmental and economic woes from inefficient energy use.
The second recipient in absentia was William Theodore de Bary. Delivering the laureate lecture on his behalf was Rachel Chung, the de facto Director of the University Committee on Asia & the Middle East (UCAME). In her lecture, titled “Sinology of Wm. Theodore de Bary: a Bridge-Builder Who Became Himself the Bridge,” she spoke on the importance of de Bary as a main proponent of Neo-Confucianism, and one of the scholars responsible for its resurgence in the West.
Brett de Bary, the daughter of the scholar and herself a scholar of Japanese literature and film at Cornell University, said in an interview that the biggest influence her father had on her was on serious academic study. His methodology included the study of civilizations on their own terms, bringing the scholar closer to the civilization rather than adapting the civilization to the scholar. This more generous way of approaching foreign civilizations had influenced not only the study of China, but of other civilizations as well.
The three joint laureates in the Biopharmaceutical Science field, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna, and Feng Zhang, spoke to a packed audience about their prize-winning work on CRISPR/Cas9, a system derived from the defense mechanisms of bacteria that is now being used to edit DNA. Charpentier gave her talk on “The transformative genome engineering CRIPSPR-Cas9 technology: lessons learned from bacteria,” Doudna on “CRISPR Systems: Nature's Toolbox for Genome Protection,” and Zhang on “Genome Editing Using CRISPR-Cas Systems: Prospects and Challenges.”
James C. Liao, President of the Academia Sinica, introduced and moderated the talks. One point he mentioned during his introduction was that the term ‘genetic engineering’ from the 80s and 90s has not been used to describe the CRISPR/Cas9 system, but rather ‘editing,’ meaning that “it is so easy that you don’t need an engineer to do it.” As he wrapped up, he encouraged the youth in the audience to follow “curiosity-driven work” like the discovery of CRISPR, as it can lead to practical applications and beyond.
The last talk of the day was given by the laureate in Rule of Law, Louise Arbour, on “Future paths for the promotion of the Rule of Law.” Rule of law, as described in Arbour’s talk, is not a system run solely by the letter of the law. Many morally abhorrent systems throughout history have been “by the books” but are in no way better for the people. The content of the laws is also of great importance. “A purely formal, procedural understanding of the Rule of Law provides order, but not justice.” This deeper understanding of the rule of law has followed her throughout her career, from her time on the Supreme Court of Canada to her role as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR).
In addition to the Laureate Lecture series, forums were also planned for Central and Southern Taiwan, where the laureates will be able to speak with Taiwan’s youth about their own experiences, and encourage them on their own roads to discovery.