Grand Challenge: The Adventure of Possibilities
KRW 20 Million Offered Annually for 5-30 Years
to Support Basic Science Research to Tackle Global Challenges
Five Themes Selected for First Half of 2016,
Including Tau, Quantum Measurement, and Chiral Molecules
“I can’t be sure if the new hypothesis in this research will succeed in identifying the origin of chiral molecules.” (Prof. Kim Hyunwoo, Dept. of Chemistry)
“This research to investigate the molecular mechanism of tau, the core protein related to Alzheimer’s disease, is not very popular.” (Prof. Choi Myung Chul, Dept. of Bio and Brain Engineering)
“The aim of my research is to modify quantum mechanics. I’ll make history if I succeed, but I have a high risk of failure.” (Undergraduate student Suh Han Gyeol, Dept. of Physics)
In June 2016, KAIST launched the Grand Challenge 30 Project with the aim of supporting long-term research to tackle fundamental questions regarding global issues and knowledge of mankind.
The faculty and students selected for the Grand Challenge admit that their research ambitions will not easily meet with success. However, they still enjoy exploring their respective study topics because of the conditions of the project: they do not need to suggest the necessity or expected effects of their research and their success or failure will not be subject to evaluation.
Indeed, the Grand Challenge has extraordinary requirements for research applicants: the research subject must not currently be a hot issue or must be impossible to be commercialized within the next ten years; the subject must relate to one of the most fundamental questions in basic science; it is difficult to win research grants for the subject, but the subject must be a necessary one in light of the characteristics of the discipline. These requirements present a stark contrast with the existing trend of pursuing lucrative and popular research areas.
The eligible applicants for the project are full-time faculty members with at least five years of service and students enrolled in undergraduate programs. The research period is anywhere between five and thirty years, and the amount of research grant for each project is KRW 20 million per year.
Launched as a pilot program in the first half of 2016, the Grand Challenge selected four faculty members and one undergraduate student. “We fully concur with the purpose of this project,” stated the professors selected for the Grand Challenge. “We believe that these research projects will make significant contributions to drawing creative and extraordinary research outcomes.”
Recipients praise support for challenging studies, while requesting a better evaluation system and research grants
“This project is mainly about the origin of molecules, an area in which I have been interested ever since I began studying chemistry. It cannot produce outcomes within a short period, and I cannot guarantee whether my hypothesis will prove valid. However, as a researcher, I find it purely delightful that I can engage in this research for a long term.” (Prof. Kim Hyunwoo, Dept. of Chemistry)
“The greatest merit of the Grand Challenge is that it allows such a study that would otherwise have been impossible under the existing system in which research outcomes are to be evaluated within a short period,” added Prof. Kim.
In his research to explore a fundamental topic related to the origin of life, Prof. Kim plans to suggest and verify a new hypothesis to establish a new theory on the generation of chiral molecules. The ultimate purpose is to contribute to developing new drugs.
“Although this project stretches over a long period, the amount of research grants is so small that I cannot launch a full-scale experiment,” continued Prof. Kim. “These issues will be addressed if the Grand Challenge 30 Project will continue to receive interest and support.”
“It is also important to establish a selection and evaluation system to allow science research projects in Korea to embrace a variety of subjects beyond standardized areas,” noted Prof. Kim.
Prof. Choi Myung Chul in the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering has been studying tau protein, which maintains the stability of microtubules within neurons. The operating principle and the structure of tau protein, the core of Alzheimer’s disease, have not been identified clearly. “This area of study is not very renowned, but somebody should venture to explore this subject,” explained Prof. Choi.
While Prof. Choi welcomes the Grand Challenge as a rare attempt in Korea to support such a challenging study, he demands that more work be done to prepare the screening/evaluation experts and system to identify extraordinary papers. “To evaluate the eligible studies, it is important not to focus on the number of related papers, but to verify whether the relevant study will really be able to tackle the challenging issues.”
As the only student among the selected researchers, the undergraduate student Suh Han Gyeol chose the topic of quantum observation and measurement, one of the most difficult conundrums in basic science. “This study bears potential to make history by modifying quantum mechanics,” said Mr. Suh. “But it has a high risk of failure.”
Among the many questions and ideas he has in physics, Mr. Suh selected the subject most suitable for the purpose of this project.
“I hope the Grand Challenge will serve as an opportunity to depart from the trend of only supporting studies that promise visible outcomes and instead to maintain long-term investment in basic science areas,” said Mr. Suh. “I also hope to see more opportunities for young students to challenge big issues.”
By exploring various possibilities of a given idea, Mr. Suh is currently forecasting and reviewing which is most likely to produce desirable results and developing his ideas through discussion with professors and students.
The Grand Challenge 30 Project is based on a noteworthy evaluation method for research outcomes. The three stages of evaluation do not focus on the success or failure of research projects; instead, they only examine whether the projects were conducted faithfully. In Level I, the general public is invited to evaluate the fundamental ideas of research and whether the project was faithfully conducted. Three years later, each researcher must evaluate his or her own project in the stage of Level II. In the final stage that arrives five years later, experts assess the faithful performance of each project and its potential.
The selection process for the Grand Challenge for the second half of 2016 was completed in October. The document screening will be conducted on November 15, and the second-round screening is scheduled for early December.
※ Topics selected for the Grand Challenge 30 Project (Source: kc30.kaist.ac.kr)
▲ Challenges in Seeing Tau (Prof. Choi Myung Chul, Dept. of Bio and Brain Engineering)
▲ Finding Research Hypotheses in Natural Science (Prof. Aviv Segev, Dept. of Industrial and Systems Engineering)
▲ A Proposed Solution for the Measurement Problem in Quantum Mechanics by Fluid Dynamics on a Hilbert Space (Suh Han Gyeol, undergraduate student in Dept. of Physics)
▲ Origin of Chiral Molecules (Prof. Kim Hyunwoo, Dept. of Chemistry)
▲ The Generalized Castelnuovo Conjecture and the Complexity of Grobner Basis (Prof. Kwak Sijong, Dept. of Mathematical Sciences)
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