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PLNU hosts Kyoto Prize laureates, officials

Kyoto Prize laureates visited PLNU for press conferences and lunch with student Inamori fellows Tuesday for the 30th anniversary of the Kyoto Prize.

“The Kyoto Prize is a global prize recognizing outstanding achievements in sciences, arts and humanities,” said President Bob Brower. “Having world renowned scholars and artists on campus is a special opportunity for PLNU. I’m very pleased that our students benefit in extending their research and academic preparation through this event.

Ron Kirkemo, a professor emeritus at PLNU was essential in getting PLNU involved in this event. After speaking with Jay Scovie, the North American liaison for the Inamori Foundation, he found out that press conferences were difficult to hold in a hotel and offered Fermanian Center as an alternative.

Kirkemo said he was impressed by how welcome PLNU was among the bigger San Diego universities, like UCSD and USD. Over the last eight years, he said PLNU has been a really good participant and member in these events, starting as a sponsor and becoming a part of the memorandum of understanding, receiving $50,000 for student research from the Inamori Foundation.

“I believe that college needs to keep improving itself,” Kirkemo said. “There are those who are very happy with us being a small college. I don’t accept that; I think we ought to be the best we can be, which means we need to keep improving. Getting involved in Kyoto was just a natural thing that a college should do.”

Scovie said PLNU brings something unique to the Kyoto Prize Symposium that reflects Inamori’s philosophy and intention for use of science and technology.

“[Science and technology] can actually create human suffering not human wellbeing…he [Inamori] wanted to inspire a balanced development of humanities’ scientific and technological advancement along with our spiritual advancement and I think that’s an element of the symposium that Point Loma Nazarene University is very well equipped to bring,” Scovie said.

The Kyoto Prize laureates this year are Dr. Robert Langer, an Institute professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Edward Witten, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study and Fukumi Shimura, a dyeing and weaving artist from Japan.

Langer founded the field of tissue engineering, essential to the practice of regenerative medicine and has over 1,000 patents worldwide. Forbes, Bio World and Discover magazine have all dubbed him one of the most influential leaders in biotechnology.

Many scientists and professors looked down on his ideas and never thought they would come to fruition. But his work has the capability to give recreated body parts to U.S. Army veterans, to help repair cosmetic defects and spinal cord damage and to help patients with cancer, heart disease and other sicknesses. In speaking with the UT San Diego at PLNU on Tuesday, he said he tries to lead by example when trying to learn about rejection.

“I want them to think that, if you work hard enough, anything is possible,” Langer said to the UT. “You keep going. You want people to work on big problems that can change lives, even if the work is risky. It is OK to fail.”

Witten, a theoretical physicist, discovered in the 90s that the five traditional string theories are different limiting cases of one theory. He said the biggest development during his career was the reconciliation of gravity and quantum field theory that went beyond the established framework of physics. He says it’s a tremendous honor to be recognized as a laureate. He encourages students to follow their dreams.

“For students who are interested in math and science, those are great fields to go into because the frontiers for discovery are there as much as they ever were in the past,” Witten said.

Shimura, 90, has dyed and weaved textiles for 60 years. She, at first, wasn’t sure it was OK to receive and accept the Kyoto Prize, but decided later that this was part of her mission. She uses color from plants to develop her art in traditional Japanese tsumugi kimonos. She was recognized as a national treasure in Japan. She said it’s time to think outside of the box of traditional education and consider human interaction with nature.

“The plants have infinite power and very few people are aware of that. I want to convey that to many people,” Shimura said in Japanese. Kim Watkins was the onsite translator. “The fact is that we are able to live as we do because of the nature, because of the greenery around us. That should be the fundamental awakening to the people and I want to communicate that thinking to the other people.”

Joe Watkins, vice president for external relations at PLNU, said this opportunity shows that PLNU is much more than just a bible school on a hill.

“We got involved primarily to support the idea of advancing knowledge for the benefit of humanity, which is central to Dr. Inamuri’s themes around the value of the Kyoto prizes,” Watkins said. “I think the other part that’s been very important to us is to provide this as an avenue for our campus community, especially our students…I hope they do aspire to do significant things like this.”

Dr. Kazuo Inamori, founder of the non-profit Inamori Foundation presented the scholarship awards personally to 11 students to aid their research in chemistry, biology, mathematics, physics and engineering and one fashion merchandising major.

“One day we will see something we wanted to see happen,” Inamori said.

Photos by Garrett Richardson