The lights were dimmed. Glorious orchestral music reverberated through the grand Concert Hall, breaking the silence that had dawned upon the awestruck crowd. With the ruffling of gowns and the mesmerising sparkle of jewels, the Swedish royal family entered with sublime majesty. All eyes were focused on the seven gentlemen who entered next, the Nobel Laureates of 2006.
Thunderous applause and a standing ovation greeted them as they stood on stage, savouring the honour to be bestowed upon them. Winning the grand prize in the National Science Challenge in 2006 saw my teammates and I boarding a flight to Sweden to witness the Nobel Prize Ceremony. More significantly, and to my great joy, I had the opportunity to speak to the Nobel Laureates during the Nobel Prize Reception. It was quite intimidating at first as we were merely a trio of high school students amongst a sea of distinguished guests.
However, it turned out to be the most rewarding experience as the warmth and friendliness of the Nobel Laureates quickly put us at ease. I also learnt that the most important tool in the pursuit of knowledge is curiosity. It fascinates, excites, and propels us to question the norms and challenge conventions. I realised that, like us, the Nobel Laureates are ordinary people, but their achievements are extraordinary because of their passion to unlock the secrets of our enigmatic world.
Attending the Nobel lectures, I was fascinated to learn about the discoveries that would revolutionise our world. Sharing the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Professor Andrew Fire and Professor Craig Mello discovered that RNA interference is the fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information in cells. Professor Roger Kornberg received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for successfully creating a molecular image of the entire transcription process.
Dr. John Mather and Professor George Smoot obtained a perfect blackbody spectrum with the COBE satellite, providing evidence to support the Big Bang Theory and cementing their places as laureates of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Professor Edmund Phelps was awarded the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for demonstrating the need for national savings in the form of a mandatory pension system. National savings are needed to develop human capital for the benefit of all generations.
His groundbreaking work challenged the dominant perception at the time and led to the formation of more effective economic policies. How has this amazing encounter helped me in my journey after SPM? It made me realise that the common trait binding the Nobel Laureates together, despite their different fields of research, is passion.
Passion is the love for what they are doing; the enthusiasm to pursue that interest beyond the boundaries of conventional knowledge, and the willingness to soldier on despite the many obstacles and difficulties that they may have encountered. It opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities of what we can achieve if we have the curiosity to unearth a problem and the creativity to provide a solution.
So how did a bunch of high school students get the amazing opportunity to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony? It all started with an invitation to participate in the National Science Challenge, a competition organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia for Form Five students throughout Malaysia.
The preliminary round involved written and oral quizzes. After making it through to the national level competition, my team and I had to complete a science project and present our results to a panel of judges. Based on the judges’ decisions and the results of a written quiz, we faced off against another three teams in the finals, which was conducted like a television game show. We had strong opponents, and we faced neck-to-neck competition right up to the last question in which we were tied with another team.
Not daring to breathe, we answered the question and waited in agony for the final tally. The results were announced – we won! The sense of joy, excitement, and relief was overwhelming. But the journey was no mean feat; between studies, extra-curricular activities, exams, and preparing for the competition, we had to juggle our time wisely. All that effort and teamwork was well worth it, as the overall experience was more than we ever dreamt of.
Daring to dream is not just for scientists, Olympic medallists, or Academy award winners; it is also for that dreamy high school student who may just become the first Malaysian to win the Nobel Prize, the school runner who is sweating it out on the field, or the talented actor in the school drama team.
In short, it is for anyone who is a little tenacious, a tad adventurous, and has a great zeal for life. So dare to dream and work towards your goal, because if Lady Luck is on your side, your wildest dreams might just come true.
Teng Hui Li received her secondary school education at St. David’s High School, Malacca and pursued A-levels at Taylor’s University, Subang Jaya. She is currently reading Economics at Harvard University.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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