Former President of the American Academy of Science
Dr. Bruce Alberts Talked about the Past and Future of Biology
On May 20th, 2010, Dr. Bruce Alberts, former President of the American Academy of Science, visited National Taiwan University to conduct academic exchange and to share his decades of experience in biological research. He gave a lecture on "Biology past and biology future," which was anchored by President Si-Chen Lee, co-organized by the Office of International Affairs and the College of Life Science, and attended by over 250 faculty and students. Professor Alberts talked about his personal experiences in promoting scientific education, and encouraged young researchers to demonstrate their creativity in their pursuit of knowledge. In the after-lecture discussions, Professor Alberts exchanged his ideas on interdisciplinary learning with President Si-Chen Lee and other faculty members in an attempt to enhance the excellence of teaching and research and the academic development of students of National Taiwan University.
Professor Alberts' lecture topic was: "Biology Past and Biology Future: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?" He first shared his personal learning experience, saying that he was not demoralized because he failed the doctoral diagnostic exams. On the contrary, from his failure he learned important lessons which were instrumental to his later achievements. Thus, he encouraged researchers to try different strategies at all times, and to constantly reflect upon themselves, so that they might achieve breakthroughs as well. He then referred to the importance of cellular mechanisms. Because previous studies underestimated the complexity of cellular mechanisms, so subsequent biologists had more opportunities to explore new phenomena. In addition, he shared his experience from editing biology textbooks. Dr. Alberts considered editing textbooks to be a great challenge, because inaccurate textbooks not only adversely affect the students' learning, but also reduce the teachers' level of knowledge, or even mislead them. Therefore, he maintained that a textbook editor had to be extremely scrupulous. When talking about the enhancement of innovation capabilities, he stressed the importance of creating a cooperative atmosphere, the interaction among the members of a small lab, and the state of mind of the individuals involved. Finally, he talked about his new job—as managing editor of the "Science" magazine. He was firmly convinced that the international work he was engaged in was to promote innovation, openness and inclusivity which were the essence of science, and that all the scientists of the world should unite together to create a more rational society based on science. In conclusion, he encouraged young scholars to cultivate creativity and intellectual aspirations.
During the exchange/discussion sessions after the lecture, Dr. Jer-Ming Hu, Deputy Director of the Office of International Affairs, asked Professor Alberts how an interdisciplinary research atmosphere was to be created. Professor Alberts cited University of California at San Francisco as an example. He said that UCSF had a special building in which open space abounded and to which expert scholars from various areas of specialization were assigned as resident consultants. By so doing not only the academic exchange among scholars was promoted, but also the distance between students and professors was abridged to promote academic developments. President Si-Chen Lee of NTU asked that, if the scope of such a plan was expanded to a university campus, how was it to be implemented? Professor Alberts proposed that in addition to the upgrading of hardware equipments, interdisciplinary curriculum should be incorporated into the students' degree programs, so that students would be encouraged to absorb knowledge on a broad basis. The key to interdisciplinary learning, however, as Professor Alberts pointed out, hinged upon the students' self-learning attitude. The University could only provide good learning environments, it was incumbent upon the students to come up with a pro-active initiative towards interdisciplinary learning for a wholesome education of humanities/social sciences/sciences to be achieved.
Dr. Bruce Alberts came to visit Taiwan upon the invitation of Academia Sinica. He is currently the managing editor of Science magazine and ambassador of science for the United States. He was the President of the American Academy of Science for 12 years, and is now professor emeritus of the Department of Biochemistry and Bio-physics of University of California at San Francisco. He is also one of the authors of "The Molecular Biology of the Cell," with a world-renowned reputation. He spares no effort in promoting scientific and mathematical education.