21 Feb 2011

Science Talk with Dr. Torsten Wiesel

On February 11, 2011, twelve local high school students in Okinawa visited the OIST campus to meet with Dr. Torsten Wiesel, Co-chair of the OIST Board of Governors (BOG), President Emeritus of Rockefeller University, and the 1981 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine. In a two-hour session entitled “Science Talk with a Nobel Laureate,” which was moderated by Dr. Masahisa Yamada, Scientific Senior Manager of the OIST Common Resources Group, the students were exposed to future possibilities as Dr. Wiesel gave advice on higher education and scientific careers.

The participants, four boys and eight girls, first introduced themselves, describing what they enjoy studying in classrooms and which profession they are aspired to. Many of them said they would like to be either a doctor or a scientist.

After thanking the students for what he referred to as wonderful self-introductions, Dr. Wiesel discussed his youth in his home country Sweden. Dr. Wiesel explained that as a son of a psychiatrist at a large mental hospital, where he grew up surrounded by patients, it was natural for him to pursue medicine. However, Dr. Wiesel continued, instead of treating individual patients, he developed interest in a job that would help a larger number of people and went to Johns Hopkins University in U.S.A. to study how the brain functions. Dr. Wiesel also talked about the research that won him and his colleague Dr. David H. Hubel the Nobel Prize in 1981, explaining that their discoveries concerning information processing in the visual system opened the door for the treatment of childhood cataracts.

Describing himself a stubborn person, Dr. Wiesel underlined the importance of not giving up easily, and being ready to take up new challenges. He told the students who wanted to be doctors that the desire to heal people was of the highest importance. To those who had expressed interest in becoming a scientist, Dr. Wiesel advised that research is very competitive, but emphasized the joy of making a discovery. Asked how his life has changed before and after receiving the Nobel Prize, Dr. Wiesel said he unfortunately no longer found time for research as he took on administrative responsibilities at various universities and institutions. On the other hand, he said how much he enjoyed the opportunity to speaking to young people and hopefully inspiring them to pursue scientific careers.

In conclusion, Dr. Wiesel talked about OIST, saying that he and his colleagues have served as BOG members to establish of one of the best universities in the world. Looking round the room, he hoped some of the students might enter the OIST graduate university.

The Science Talk ended with each student commenting on the event. Ms. Ayaka Yagi, first grader at Okinawa Shogaku Senior High School, said she was interested in biology but found medicine attractive after listening to Dr. Wiesel. Mr. Kazuki Hiyane, first grader at Okinawa Prefectural Kaiho High School, said he while he is not good at interacting with people, he learned making a good presentation is crucial for scientists to receive grants. Ms. Rina Yamada, first grader at Okinawa Prefectural Kyuyo High School, said she wanted to become a surgeon, and had learned that being open to all opportunities is the key to developing one’s potential. Ms. Aki Zukeran, second grader at Okinawa Prefectural Naha Kokusai High School, said she was very inspired by Dr. Wiesel’s talk and understood that scientific research can help many people in the world.

Students other than those mentioned above are:
Ms. Mai Ikehara, second grader at Okinawa Shogaku Senior High School; Ms. Nao Hamakawa, second grader at Okinawa Prefectural Kaiho High School; Ms. Shuko Chinen, second grader at Okinawa Prefectural Kyuyo High School; Mr. Yusuke Fujimoto and Mr. Yoshiki Oshiro, first and second graders at Okinawa Prefectural Koyo High School, respectively; Mr. Shin Asato and Ms. Kanako Gima, both second graders at High School Affiliated with Showa Pharmaceutical University, as well as Ms. Mona Akamine, second grader at Okinawa Prefectural Naha Kokusai High School.

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Dr. Wiesel receives a question while Dr. Yamada looks on
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Dr. Wiesel speaks to students through an interpreter
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The Science Talk in the OIST Café
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Dr. Wiesel


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