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Nobel Winner Advocates Interdisciplinary Research

Media Release

Nobel Winner Advocates Interdisciplinary Research
at Genesis Science and Technology Forum
Tells Students “Discussion Leads to Discoveries”

AUCKLAND, 15 January 2001 – New Zealand-born and educated Nobel Prize winner, Dr Alan MacDiarmid, shared his thoughts with Forum students that the future of science lies in the challenging discussions that arise out of interdisciplinary research.
Due to conflicts with his teaching commitments, he was unfortunately unable to deliver his address, scheduled for today's opening of the Genesis National Science and Technology Forum.
Dr MacDiarmid is convinced that without vigorous discussion, good science simply isn't possible, and that it is the challenges and stimulation that come from the struggle to exchange ideas with people from other disciplines that leads to major scientific breakthroughs.
Echoing comments he made on learning that he had won the Nobel Prize, Dr MacDiarmid stressed that, in his opinion, research in the future will utilise more and more the concept of interdisciplinary research.
"When people with completely different scientific backgrounds get together to solve a common problem, you have to learn a different way of speaking, a different language,” stated Dr MacDiarmid. “It's much tougher. It takes you out of your comfort zone. But it's more rewarding. This requirement to communicate also brings home the enormous importance of discussion in research. You can be the most brilliant scientist in all the world, but put you on a desert island with the best equipment and the best libraries and you'll do lousy research. Good research comes from discussion. You must have interaction."
"The research coming from a group cannot be better than the people carrying it out. As a researcher I've been fortunate to have had first class students working with me. And if you have good people working with you, the chances of making important, difficult and sometimes expensive discoveries increase dramatically. That's why it matters that we get the best and brightest of our minds into scientific programmes."
The Genesis National Science and Technology Forum, which started in Auckland on January 13 and runs for two weeks, aims to help fix a shortage of science graduates by introducing talented Sixth Formers to science as a career. Selected from all over the country, the students are top performers in mathematics and science.
"To show students how exciting and rewarding a career in science can be is an excellent aim," stated Dr MacDiarmid. "And I think it extremely positive that Forum students gain exposure to a wide variety of disciplines and see opportunities for themselves of how life as a working scientist might be. How excellent to see at a formative stage that a science degree trains a person for far more than working in a research lab, though that can be very exciting work indeed."
"In my work, I am always keen to find New Zealand-trained scientists. In addition to strong basic science education, they bring good solid initiative that seems to come with our national character. New Zealanders and Australians seem innately innovative and resourceful.
"My own feeling is that a good grounding in science today is the mark of a well-rounded, educated person, such as a knowledge of Latin and Greek was in former times. In today's scientific technological age, this type of education is necessary in order to make sound social, political and technological judgments and decisions.
“In my work I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to do a large amount of research. I choose to combine this with teaching, and am committed to continue lecturing first-year students."
In its twelfth year, the Forum is sponsored by Genesis Research and Development Corporation and organised by Rotary. Students participate in intensive teaching programmes combined with field exercises and visits to advanced research laboratories including the Genesis facility at Parnell. Senior staff from Auckland and Waikato Universities, the Auckland University of Technology, Unitec Institute of Technology, Manukau Institute of Technology and Massey University at Albany run the academic programme. Students from last year were among this year's winners of Education and Science Trust scholarships and will attend this year's Forum as staff advisers.
In association with the British Council, two students will be eligible to go on to the International Youth Science Forum held in London. Six students have already been chosen to attend the National Youth Science Forum in Canberra. Six Australian students will fill their places in Auckland under an exchange arrangement between the two Forums.
About Genesis
Genesis is a biotechnology company based in Auckland, New Zealand, with genomic programmes in human health, forestry and agriculture. Genesis builds EST databases that provide the genomic platform for discovery of novel genes with commercial value and has considerable experience and expertise in high-throughput DNA sequencing, functional genomics and development of therapeutics. Partnerships with biopharmaceutical, agricultural and forestry companies have been important for funding research to effectively develop potential products. In addition to the extensive forestry gene technology, Genesis is undertaking clinical trials for an asthma therapeutic in Wellington, New Zealand.
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