McDonnell Scholar Blog: Deeply intertwined connections

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My experience in Beijing during the 7thInternational McDonnell Academy Symposium was marked by kind hospitality of the people in China, thought-provocative sessions, and the following intense discussions with fellow scholars, professors, and industry experts. The Symposium highlighted the role played by research universities to solve the global problems of Energy, Environment, Health, and Agriculture.

After the last Symposium in Brisbane, this is the second Symposium that I attended. I can clearly feel the difference in my motivation to contribute. There has been a drastic improvement in my thought process, eagerness to listen and gain knowledge from the speaker and urge to interact with the speaker beyond the sessions to satiate my curiosity about the topic. The Symposium further prepares the McDonnell Scholars from 35 different partner universities, from the diverse fields ranging from aerosol science to human psychology to come together; ponder over the problems that humanity faces in the present; and come up with innovative solutions to mitigate them in the future.

As a PhD student in Aerosol and Air Quality Research Laboratory (AAQRL), I was most interested in the Energy and Environmental theme of the Symposium. As presented by the presidents of various partner universities, the focus of their governments is quite independent. Where China is working hard to solve the problem of air pollution for the past 5 years; India has just realized the problem. On the other hand, India has made advancement in installing the solar energy and aims to have at least 15 percent of the vehicles on road to be electric in five years. This provided a good opportunity to learn from each other.

As the Symposium unfolded, the deeply intertwined connections of air pollution to energy, environment to agriculture, and health to aging became more evident.

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Girish Sharma, McDonnell Scholar from the School of Engineering & Applied Science (PhD)

In the session about agriculture, it was mentioned: “1 in 9 people go to bed hungry every day, but unfortunately, policies are made by the individuals with a full stomach”. I was deeply intrigued by this statement, as how important sustainable agriculture is for our prosperity. When we went to dinner that night, we felt extremely bad to waste even a bit of food.

Coming from India, where culture and tradition are deeply embedded in our daily activities, as a kid, I was told that wastage of food, water, or any resource is linked to bad fortune. Now, looking at it as a scientist, I realize that it indeed brings bad fortune for not just me, but the whole planet. Another preventive measure is to incorporate yoga, meditation, and exercise in our daily lives. It not only will improve physical health and mental well-being, but contributes to our positive mindset to contribute to society as a whole. My solution strategy of taking small steps is well summarized by the Chinese proverb “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still”.

I believe that human beings should come together to solve (not divert) the problems created by humans in a sustainable manner while preventing the new problems to arise. The choice is completely ours, which side we choose!