The Frontiers demand more science to face the great challenges of Humanity

Authorities, representatives of the BBVA Foundation and the CSIC, and the winners, at the entrance to the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards ceremony. / BBVA Foundation

Frontiers of Knowledge Awards 2022

Knowledge as the key to a better future reigns supreme at the BBVA Foundation awards ceremony

"We are on time". In the midst of a depressing succession of apocalyptic messages regarding climate change, it is to be appreciated what the American glaciologists Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson have done in the Euskalduna Palace auditorium. They could have presented us with the almost empty bottle, but they have chosen to show it to us half full. Although they acknowledge that "it may be too late to save many of our mountain glaciers", they assure that there is reason for hope: "We still have time to work together, nationally and internationally, to slow down and, ideally, eliminate the threat posed by climate and environmental change and its consequent impact on our societies, economies and livelihoods.

Philip Glass announces in Bilbao that he is finishing a work based on texts by Abraham Lincoln

The award ceremony for the fourteenth edition of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards has been a hymn to hope, but not blindly, but rather to hope founded on knowledge and action based on it. Winners and institutional representatives have claimed in their speeches knowledge as a compass to guide us in a changing and often confusing reality, as the tool with which to face the challenges we face as a species. "Science is powerful and offers us the opportunity to design a more supportive, fair and sustainable future," said Rosa Menéndez, president of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).

Carlos Torres, president of the BBVA Foundation:

The event was followed from the stalls by a broad representation of society, among which there were –as is logical– many scientists and academics, some who had come from outside the Basque Country to once again attend the awards ceremony that they are among the most important in the world, as evidenced by the fact that twenty winners have subsequently won the Nobel Prize. "A few awards that each year vindicate the value of science and culture as the best tools we have to face the great challenges of our time," said Carlos Torres Vila, president of the BBVA Foundation and co-president of the ceremony together with the head of the CSIC.

"Horizon of Destiny"

The mayor of Bilbao, Juan Mari Aburto, has appealed to knowledge as the key bet for the future. "It is our only way out as a species and as a civilization", and "the best antidote to neutralize extremism of all kinds that push us into dark times that we already thought were over". The councilor has underlined the revealing role that the coronavirus has had for many citizens when it comes to research. “During the pandemic we realized the value of science and knowledge. Science made the miracle of developing vaccines possible in record time, thanks to the technological developments” of Katalin Kariko, Robert Langer and Drew Weissman, Aburto indicated.

For the Lehendakari, the winners "are a light that illuminates us and shows us the horizon of destiny." «With your work and research –he said addressing the thirteen winners present at the event; the mathematician Charles Fefferman did not travel to Bilbao for health reasons–, you are opening a horizon of possibilities and future solutions for a world in transformation». Iñigo Urkullu has pointed out that we are at the gates of "three great transformations" – technological, energetic and demographic – very present in the investigations of the honorees. In the final stretch of his speech, he recalled "a universal Basque, Juan Sebastián Elcano, the first to circumnavigate the world." “We have not lost that illusion to know, that curiosity to know, that ambition to grow”, he has said of those who live today in the land of the navigator.

"Each flash of something interesting, whether it was an expected finding or unexpected ones, even more exciting, encouraged us to continue," recalled the immunologist Drew Weissman about the 25 years of work with the biochemist Katalin Karikó until they managed to modify the messenger RNA (mRNA) for use as a therapeutic agent. "The mRNA was discovered in 1961 and it has taken sixty years to become an approved medical product: the first two vaccines against covid-19," she stressed. In 1974, chemical engineer Robert discovered how to get mRNA into the body without it being destroyed by the organism, although he was met with rejection by the scientific community. «My career is a reflection of that of doctors Karikó and Weissman. Their early pioneering work was largely underrated for a long time, but they never gave up despite what others said."

Social networks and artificial intelligence

Constancy is also what the Thompson couple has shown off, who since 1974 have climbed to the highest peaks to get hold of the ice cores in which climatic history is written. These cores, in which the atmosphere of the past has been trapped, demonstrate that current climate change is unprecedented in its speed. But it is not too late "to accelerate the transition to a carbon-free society," according to them. There is also still time to stop the loss of biodiversity, the three winners in Ecology and Conservation Biology –Simon Levin, Lenore Fahrig and Steward Pickket– have agreed in a joint intervention.

Rosa Menéndez, president of the CSIC:

Matthew Jackson, awarded for his studies on the role of networks in the transactions of economic and social life, recalled that human beings are "a social species" and how, however, "economics has ignored the fact that most economic interactions are embedded in social settings. "When you start to study the networks, you see their impact everywhere," the economist assured. To the sociologist Mark Granovetter, discoverer of the importance of networks of acquaintances, the so-called weak ties, when it comes to finding a job. it has given him "particular joy to receive an award that encompasses all the social sciences."

The mathematician Jean-Fraçois Le Gall, who has also spoken on behalf of his colleague Charles Fefferman, was honored by a Basic Sciences award that encourages him to "continue advancing" in his line of research, focused on the so-called two-dimensional random geometry . The physicist and philosopher Judea Pearl, whose fundamental contributions have been recognized so that artificial intelligence programs internalize the concepts of probability and causality, has explained how, "by asking ourselves 'how would a machine do it?' idea of ​​how we do it, because machines are like flexible laboratories for testing various theories of human thought. And the musician Philip Glass has stressed the importance of awards that recognize “people who are alive and working and writing about the world we live in. The work we do becomes part of today's culture," said the Baltimore-based songwriter.

Source link