In this TechNode Global Q&A, Professor Albert P. Pisano, Co-Chair, VinFuture Prize Pre-Screening Council, shares his insights into the process of scientific discovery and how great scientists need to be humanitarians as well. “It is most important to keep in mind that the real purpose for doing all of this is to help people,” he tells TechNode Global.

Professor Albert P. Pisano is an American academic who has served as Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) since September 2013. He is a co-inventor listed on more than 20 patents in micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) and has co-authored more than 300 archival publications.

Professor Pisano is a co-founder of 10 startup companies in the areas of transdermal drug delivery, transvascular drug delivery, sensorized catheters, MEMS manufacturing equipment, MEMS RF devices and MEMS motion sensors.

In 2001, Professor Pisano was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for contributions to the design, fabrication, commercialization, and educational aspects of MEMS. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and an awardee of the Thomas Egleston Medal for Distinguished Engineering Achievement by notable alumni of Columbia University.

In 2008, he was named one of the 100 Notable People in the Medical Device Industry by Medical Devices and Diagnostic Industry (MD&DI) Magazine.

Professor Albert P. Pisano

What are the trends currently driving innovation in Vietnam? What is the relevance of this in a larger context, for instance in Southeast Asia or a global perspective?

I think the energy of country and the energy people are pushing a number of things forward. You see a number of individuals who are taking the initiative to start doing bigger and bigger projects. Every single one of those projects will inspire someone else to start another project. So there’s a theory called the upward spiral. Everything good that happens encourages another good thing that happens, and the spiral starts turning and the country drives through very quickly. So I think I think the country has reached a point where these big grand projects are starting to succeed and you will see a big acceleration because of that.

If we look at a global context, the world is a better place if every country within it is strong, secure, and is able to take great care of its people. This is, I think, the best goal possible. So you see is Vietnam is developing its own special system for improving itself, and contributing to the world as it improves itself and integrates itself into the global economy. So I think that there will be other places in Asia that look at this model.

What are three key challenges facing technologists and innovators in this post-pandemic environment? How about the practical considerations in addressing these challenges?

I think innovators and scientists and researchers still are struggling with 3 issues:

  1. Having enough resource;
  2. Being able to focus exclusively on their work without being distracted;
  3. We still need to continue to work to make sure that women and other minorities are fully integrated into the intellectual endeavors.

So these three things are slowly being solved. And as the solutions come, I think you’re going to see the rate of innovation increase.

The VinFuture Prize has a vision to “catalyze meaningful change in people’s everyday lives through tangible and highly scalable improvements in areas such as productivity, prosperity, connectivity, health, safety, environment, sustainability, as well as their overall happiness.” How would you characterize the impact of such change?

I think the impact is going to be very big. Because the VinFuture Prize has focused everyone’s attention on a very important issue. It is necessary to do great science. It is necessary to implement that science in a way that benefits people. But it is most important to keep in mind that the real purpose for doing all of this is to help people. So the big change in thinking is that it is not sufficient to be a great scientist, you must be a humanitarian as well. And I think that the VinFuture Prize is putting a very strong light on that. And I think that it will lead the world in thinking more this way.

I am convinced that the VinFuture prize will continue and will grow in stature and become a yet a bigger inspiration. To all of the nominators, I say please send your best. This prize will recognize the best. So please have full confidence and send your best.

Can you share some interesting data, examples, or case studies from your portfolio that are a good example of how technology can bring about such impactful change?

From my own research, I was one of the early researchers in micro sensors. One of those micro sensors is in your phone right now. It’s the micro accelerometer. It is used to determine which way gravity is. So the phone knows which way is down, which way is up. There were many of us, of course, I wasn’t the only one. But one of my early researches was in micro accelerometers. You see the effects of that right now in your hands.

How do you see the environment for innovation in the medium term? How about the long-term?

As the pressures of COVID relax, you’re going to see a lot more meetings and a lot more convenience. This will re-energize everyone who has been patiently waiting for the pandemic to pass. I think you will see an acceleration in innovation from that alone, simply because a lot of innovation comes from the exchange of people and ideas. Innovation comes when the new idea is used to bring a new product or a new device into practice.

Is there anything you would like to highlight with regard to the VinFuture Prize?

I will make a very sincere statement. The first one is admiration. The whole VinFuture organization, the founders, Vingroup, the prize itself. This is something that I truly admire. It is unique in the world. It comes from a wonderful country and this brilliant idea was brought forward from Vietnam. So I truly admire that and I wish others would do the same.

The second thing is an incredible appreciation for the for the sense of social responsibility that the prize represents to acknowledge people from developing countries to acknowledge new entrants into the field, new devices, new research and to a specially acknowledged women. So I truly truly appreciate that.

And the final tagline is incredible. Because of these things happen, the future will be much better. And so I’m just grateful. The sense of hopefulness is something I am grateful for, because this prize, I think, will help many, many people remember what is the most important reason for them to do their work.

VinFuture Prize Chair Professor Sir Richard Henry Friend on opportunities in science and discovery [Q&A]