WLA Forum expands international influence

China Daily| Updated: Nov 24, 2022 L M S

Annual event in Shanghai welcomes growing number of top scientists from across the world

The WLA Forum, an annual gathering in Shanghai for top scientists from around the world since 2018, has made breakthroughs in expanding its influence as well as achieving its missions to promote the development of basic science and international cooperation and inspire more young scientists.

In the first four editions from 2018 to 2021, the number of Nobel Prize laureates in attendance both online and offline had been increasing year-on-year. In 2018, a total of 26 Nobel Prize laureates participated in the forum. The figure grew to 44 in 2019, 61 in 2020 and 68 in 2021.

The 5th WLA Forum, which was held on Nov 6 and 7, featured 60 top scientists worldwide, including 27 Nobel Prize laureates. The event organizers said it was the biggest turnout of overseas top science award winners to offline meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world in 2020.

"We brought in almost 70 Nobel laureates, and even more laureates of other distinguished awards, to the 2021 WLA Forum. I'm sure we will continue to grow those numbers. The laureates return each year because of their commitment to the missions of the WLA and the pleasure they take in the forum itself," said Roger Kornberg, chairman of the World Laureates Association and 2006 Nobel laureate in chemistry. Kornberg delivered his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 5th WLA Forum.

During the last five years, the forum has been a platform for global scientists to share their latest findings on basic science and scientific solutions to issues such as digitalization and green development. Taking the 2022 edition as an example, a total of 21 events covering a wide range of fields such as low-carbon, sustainable agricultural development and young engineers cultivation were held.

"The forum offers the only opportunity anywhere to learn about recent advances in every area of science, from the best experts, in language we can all understand. It is a veritable feast of science. The benefits extended beyond the laureates and those in the hall to millions who logged on to the sessions last year, which were held virtually due to COVID-19," Kornberg said.

Valuable prize

The WLA Prize, an international science prize, was initiated during the 4th WLA Forum in 2021 in Shanghai. It aims to recognize and support eminent researchers and technologists worldwide for their contributions to science, address the challenges to humanity and promote society's long-term progress.

Each year, the WLA Prize is awarded in two categories: the WLA Prize in Computer Science or Mathematics and the WLA Prize in Life Science or Medicine.

The reward for each individual prize is 10 million yuan ($1.39 million) with Sequoia China as the exclusive sponsor of the WLA Prize.

"Science and technology today are making more breakthroughs in interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary fields; that is why the WLA Prize is awarded in two interdisciplinary categories to recognize disruptive achievements in this regard. We hope the WLA Prize can help scientists build a more effective platform to spread their research and findings, and help create a more vibrant and inclusive ecosystem to encourage scientists to explore uncharted territories and look for their own 'eureka' moments'", said Neil Shen, steward of Sequoia Capital founding and managing partner of Sequoia China.

The inaugural WLA Prize was awarded to two winners from the United States and Germany during the 5th WLA Forum.

US scientist and statistician Michael I. Jordan received the WLA Prize in Computer Science or Mathematics for his "fundamental contribution to the theoretical basis of machine learning and its applications".

German biochemist Dirk Gorlich won the WLA Prize in Life Science or Medicine for his "key discoveries about the mechanism of transport of proteins between the cytoplasm and the nucleus and their selectivity".

"The WLA Prize advocates original basic science and encourages scientific researchers to be better committed to the common wellbeing of human beings. It is believed that the WLA Prize, established in China through multilateral efforts, will become one of the world's globally influential awards," Kornberg said.

Jordan shared his thoughts on machine learning and encouraged the young generation to explore and learn widely, then choose one field to carry out more profound research. He also predicted that a new discipline in engineering based on intelligence science, statistics, and economy would soon come into existence, leading the world to a multidata era. The first discipline in the engineering field was closely related to users' preferences, values and decisions. He also noted that the three missions of the WLA Forum went along miraculously well with what people expected from machine learning and artificial intelligence in the future, with them unanimously agreeing that international cooperation would lead to prosperity.

Gorlich shared his research process and noted that some fundamental researchers might not be recognized for their achievements because they were "ahead of time".

"So, receiving the WLA Prize today is a wonderful recognition for a long and exciting journey," Gorlich said.

John Hennessy, 2017 Turing Award Laureate and chair of the WLA Prize Selection Committee, said that what's wonderful about the WLA Prize is that it recognizes a set of fields which are critically important to the future, but haven't perhaps received the recognition like the Nobel Prize because the Nobel Prize was created before computer science was a field in itself.

Inspiring young scientists

One of the missions of the WLA Forum is to support the growth of the young generation to consolidate the development foundation of scientific work and offer more opportunities for younger scientists to have in-depth interactions with the world's leading laureates.

The WLA Sci-T Conference was held for outstanding high school students and freshmen from all over the world, and drew the attendance of top science award winners. It provided a platform for young people who are interested in scientific research to communicate with top scientists, and played a role in cultivating the next generation of scientists.

At the conference, top scientists and experts were invited to share their views online and on-site. At the 2022 conference, a cultivation program jointly developed by the Education Commission of Shanghai and the WLA Shanghai Center for next-generation scientists was launched. According to the plan, a total of 100 students in Shanghai, who have strong scientific awareness and potential, will be selected and offered a chance to take part in a one-year cultivation program. Efim Zelmanov, who was awarded a Fields Medal in 1994, will be involved in the program to inspire those students and lead them to explore the scientific world. Ten students will be selected to participate in the 2023 WLA Forum.

During the 5th WLA Forum, the WLA High School League, formed by 13 top high schools in China, including Shanghai High School, the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China and Shenzhen High School, was established to raise the interest and awareness of students in science and improve their ability to explore the world. Michael Levitt, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, and Zelmanov, visited Shanghai High School and No 2 High School of East China Normal University.

At the higher level, the WLA University Presidents Advisory and Collaborative Committee was established to strengthen cooperation among top universities in fields such as talent cultivation, academic exchange, scientific partnership and research results commercialization. University of Oxford, Fudan University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have agreed to form such a strategic partnership.

Embracing a brighter future

The 5th WLA Forum also celebrated the opening of its permanent venue in Lin-gang New Area on Nov 4, the latest addition to the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone where Tesla's Gigafactory is located. The site, which consists of theaters, libraries, science exhibition halls and hotels, is set to become an international community for global communication and cooperation in science and technology for top scientists, organizers said.

Wu Xiangdong, executive director of the WLA and chairman of the WLA Prize Management Committee, said the opening of the permanent site for the WLA Forum marks the progress of a scientific community. It features frontier scientists from around the world and has turned a blueprint into reality.


The permanent venue for the WLA Forum in Lin-gang of Shanghai opens in November. [Photo/WeChat ID: shlgguanweihui]