Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace

III: The Future of Science and Human Development

Speaking on the contributions science has made and will continue to make for human advancement, Nobel Laureate Professor David J. Gross captivated an audience of over 500 at the University of Cambodia (UC) on January 6, 2010. This was the third of the current series of Bridges Dialogues hosted by the UC Asia Leadership Center. This series was launched on November 5, 2009, at UC with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An as the guest-of-honor, with a total of nine distinguished visitors to Cambodia (the Nobel Laureates Aaron Ciechanover, David Gross, Eric Maskin, Torsten Wiesel, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Jose Ramos-Horta; the classical pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy; the actor Jackie Chan, known in Cambodia as Chen Long; and the film director Oliver Stone) over a period of six months. Their visits were sponsored by Dr. Haruhisa Handa (Chairman and Founder of Worldwide Support for Development and the International Foundation for Arts and Culture) and facilitated by the International Peace Foundation.

After being conferred an honorary doctorate in Science by H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn (President of UC and Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Professor Gross identified the discovery of the scientific method over 400 years ago as “perhaps the greatest gift of science” and stressed that the scientific method is valuable because it allows people to explore and understand ideas through systematic observation of nature and experimentation. People have been able to gain extensive knowledge about life, how things work, and different fields in the sciences without being influenced by

political powers or religious tenets.“To have a healthy scientific culture, you must have an open society,” Professor Gross insisted. “Science requires openness where everybody can speak their mind.” He illustrated this point by noting that if a student in his physics class told him a part of his lecture was wrong and could prove it, he would agree with the student. He also acknowledged that theories are likely to be replaced by more correct theories in the future, so a healthy scientific community welcomes improvement.

Professor Gross went on to discuss the advancements in the fields of astronomy, physics, and biology since the discovery of the scientific method, and proposed that science is the most international of all human activities because it seeks to explore and understand natural phenomena.
Towards the end of the session, he answered several questions from the audience, ranging from the relation between Buddhist teachings and science to how scientific and technological developments may be detrimental to human ethics.

“I think scientific culture itself is one that enhances the humanity of people,” asserted Professor Gross. “It makes us humble with

“To have a healthy scientific culture, you must have an open society.” Professor David J. Gross,
Nobel Laureate

respect to nature. . .Nature is beautiful and the more you understand, the more beautiful it appears.”
In response to a question about advice he could offer to students interested in pursuing a career in the sciences, Professor Gross replied, “All you need is the drive, and the ambition, and the curiosity, and the will power, and you can do it. Nothing is stopping you.”
Today, students have an opportunity to learn by using technological advances and the Internet, even those students who lack access to traditional sources of information and educational resources. For example,

Professor Gross highlighted how students can access and download a physics course on-line for free from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the United States and, through its OpenCourseWare website, provides free global access to course materials for many of its undergraduate and graduate level courses.
When asked about any advice he could give educators interested in improving science and mathematics learning in Cambodia, Professor Gross delivered yet another positive and encouraging message: Give. . .[students]. . .dreams, don’t discourage them. They should be inspired to be ambitious and to dream big, and to attempt the impossible. . .aside from just teaching them basic skills and basic information, expose them to new ideas, to real frontier science, not just to
what you have to do.

Educators at all levels, from primary school to higher education, can benefit tremendously from these wise words and can help pass along a love of learning to their students, a life-long characteristic that can help students succeed well after formal education.

Professor Gross was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2004 along with two others, Frank Wilczek and David Politzer, for the discovery of asymptotic freedom, which eventually contributed to further research leading to a new and important physics theory, Quantum ChromoDynamics. He continues to do research and currently serves as the Director at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.