“Two Days of Experiments in Vietnam”
(Asian Chemical Biology Initiative, Hanoi Meeting)
The bus arrived at the Hanoi Daewoo Hotel amid the clamor of honking cars and clouds of exhaust billowing from motorcycles. Unlike the surrounding traditional Vietnamese structures, the hotel is an ultra-modern high-rise like those customarily seen in Tokyo or Seoul - a fitting site, we thought, for the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Asian Chemical Biology Initiative (ACBI). We were eager to join our colleagues who traveled from across Asia and the South Pacific to attend the meeting: 7 from Korea, 5 from China (Mainland and Hong Kong), 2 from Singapore, 1 from New Zealand, and 15 from Japan.
Held on February 25 and 26, the meeting was convened to continue the mission of ACBI to promote the field of chemical biology throughout Asia, to accelerate international collaborations in the region, and to foster young chemical biologists in emerging Asian countries. The initiative is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to build a partnership between Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Asian countries over the next 5 years.
Prof. Motonari Uesugi of Kyoto University, the chief organizer of the Hanoi event, opened the meeting, calling it a “2-day experiment.” The first aim of this experiment was to develop a Far East version of the Gordon Research Conference, a closed meeting of principal investigators organized to promote rapid decision making on international collaborations, to share research resources, and to streamline chemical biology research in the region. Over a day and a half, participants not only presented results from their ongoing research but also created opportunities for collaborative projects. The presentations covered a wide range of topics as roughly summarized in the latter half of this report. Participants engaged in lively discussions throughout the meeting, whether during sessions, coffee breaks sponsored by the publishers of ACS Chemical Biology and Chemistry & Biology, or meals. Participants also engaged in dialogs with vice presidents of the Vietnam National University, other Vietnamese professors, and a minister from the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam. Some took the opportunity to visit the chemistry department at VNU.
The second aim of the 2-day experiment was to identify talented students who could become the next generation of chemical biologists in Vietnam. Before the meeting, Vietnamese students majoring in chemistry or biology were invited to visit the ACBI Web site (www.asianchembio.jp) to browse the member database and identify laboratories they wished to join. A total of 41 qualified students came to the meeting to be interviewed by meeting attendees during a half-day session. After Prof. Uesugi gave a general overview of chemical biology, the meeting participants screened about 10 students each, describing their research and educational background and explaining in detail how the students could apply for scholarships for overseas PhD programs in individual countries or at specific institutions. Even though these students had not been exposed to state-of-the-art chemical biology research, we all were impressed by their competence and eagerness to learn.
The spirit of the 2-day event was captured at the dinner held for the student attendees at a local Vietnamese restaurant. The festive occasion began with a toast by Prof. Seung Bum Park of Seoul National University. Although science dominated the evening’s conversation, the blending of Asian cultures was evident, even during a heated discussion of Vietnamese cuisine. As the festivities came to a close, Prof. Young-Tae Chang of the National University of Singapore reminded all that science is our common language and that we represent the whole of Asia as well as our individual countries.
Content with the success of the meeting, we boarded the bus to the airport. Watching the neon lights and the motorcycle lamps colorfully illuminating the streets of Hanoi, we recalled the faces of every Vietnamese student we interviewed and wondered what future is waiting for them. The bus seat that felt rigid when we first arrived, now felt oddly pleasant. We left Vietnam with expectations of next year’s meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.