The Growing Trend towards Asia in Science and Technology
Korea has a tremendous opportunity to play a central role in the future of discovery in science and technology if it takes advantage of some emerging trends. We can already see the growing sophistication of science in Asia in terms of the quality of its research, the sophistication of its infrastructure and the ability of its researchers. While the role of China has grown the most rapidly, Korea has unique strengths in technology and scholarship that position it to make major contributions in the future.
David McCullough details in his recent book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris that during the 19th century key United States figures in the arts and sciences went to Paris to receive their advanced education. By the 20th century that flow of students from the United States to France had largely reversed. Not only French and other European leaders, but many students from Asia, were educated at United States institutions over the last hundred years.
Today the United States continues to play a central role in research and education, but the trend continues to shift toward the east. A US political climate that places restrictions on immigration has made visas for students and their family members more difficult to receive. This climate, combined with the financial challenges faced by American research universities, is providing an opportunity for East Asian institutions to become the training destination for future leaders in the 21stcentury.
The balance of intellectual influence on the global stage is approaching a tipping point, and Korea is in a position to benefit from the flow of talent that is likely to be headed its way. At my institution and at other major American universities, we are beginning to see faculty lured away to positions in Asia. As the relative gravity of East Asia within the global research community increases and more scientific breakthroughs happen in the region, I expect we will see more outstanding faculty and students select Asia as their intellectual home, because it permits them to conduct research on the scale and of the quality they need. Moreover, advantages in information technology and manufacturing will be of great advantage to East Asia in on-going research efforts.
Everything in the sciences is driven by technology. The capability of scientific instruments determine what can be detected, measured, and manipulated. The ease with which samples can be assessed and biopolymers sequenced is critical to research breakthroughs. It is clear that innovation in processes and in instrumentation drives research in biology. Entirely new paradigms for research, classification, and understanding are transforming the biological sciences. Those new paradigms are intimately linked to emerging technologies that establish what can be detected at the microscopic level.
Corporate leadership in applied technologies can function as a tremendous asset in technology development. Korea has a demonstrated global reach in terms of its multinational corporations Samsung, Hyundai and LG. Technologies that Korea is now applying so effectively in consumer products such as televisions and mobile phones can have profound, perhaps previously unimagined applications in instrumentation for biological sciences, sequencing instruments and analytical technologies. Korea has remarkable strengths in information technology, in display technology and in mechanical design that could be readily applied to the research process in creative new ways. Greater thought should be given to how they could be deployed to enhance research and discovery. Korea should consider how its strengths in innovative manufacturing could be applied to problems in scientific technology development.
Impressions about Korean Research Today
I recently had the opportunity to visit several academic institutions in Korea and I was deeply impressed by what I saw. It is a welcoming and livable country for internationals and has a deep commitment to democracy and educational quality. Korea has made a major investment in infrastructure with a clear vision of what it hopes to achieve as a center for basic and applied research. I was struck by the ability of Korea's talented faculty to take full advantage of the opportunities that such facilities offer. When I visited Seoul National University, I spent time with Narry Kim, one of the pioneers in RNA research who has made remarkable strides in understanding gene silencing. Her approaches to research are innovative and she has excelled in a highly competitive field, in part because of the outstanding Korean students who work in her lab. Dr. Kim is one of many examples of Korea's new generation of cutting-edge researchers.
In my opinion Korea could achieve even more success if research institutions modified administrative and research policies to further empower junior faculty, particularly female scientists. The United States has benefited greatly from a system in which younger researchers have the leeway to explore their own new ideas and approaches without being beholden to a senior faculty director. Many of the most important scientific innovations occur during the young, hungry stage of a researcher's career. Korea will reap substantial rewards if it devotes a greater fraction of its resources toward the support of junior faculty, providing them with opportunities to have completely independent research programs. Investing in young people of promise will allow Korea to recruit talent who otherwise would be lost to countries that offer more independence to junior faculty recruits.
Korea is making substantial commitments to research that will undoubtedly bear fruit in the coming years. Yale seeks to take a leading role in convergence technology globally with the opening of West Campus, a 136 acre facility purchased from Bayer Pharmaceuticals, that is located seven miles from the main campus. Within this facility we are creating six interdisciplinary research institutes focused on practical solutions to human sustainability, health, and energy. I was excited to learn that Korea is undertaking their own initiative very closely aligned with Yale's at the Seoul National University's Advanced Institutes of Convergence Technology (AICT). AICT consists of a carefully designed campus that hosts an innovative configuration of research institutes with first-class infrastructure and a graduate school. Seoul National University has made a large investment to equip the institutes with the best infrastructure and recruit first-class faculty to the campus. The fact that Yale and Seoul National University are engaging in similar projects at the same time presents a remarkable opportunity for our institutions to learn from each other's experience.
I have already learned a great deal about how we can overcome the challenges of initiating an interdisciplinary campus from a comparison of notes with the leadership of AICT. I have learned both from their successes and by witnessing how they have overcome the challenges such a large-scale project inevitably faces. I think that American research institutions can gain much from close exchanges with Korea. Korea is coming of age in what promises to be the Asian century, and American universities such as my own are increasingly interested in establishing Korean partnerships, particularly in cases where our goals are so clearly shared.
Dr. Scott Strobel is the Vice President for West Campus Planning and Program Development at Yale University.