bridges vol. 31, October 2011 / Norm Neureiter on Science in Diplomacy
By Norman P. Neureiter
An international scientific conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, the DPRK - it seems almost unbelievable but it happened and it was a big success. It took place at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) October 4-8 this year. PUST is the university built with funds donated largely by Korean Christian groups around the world. It is staffed by volunteer teachers from several countries; all instruction is done in English and it is the fulfillment of a dream of one man, President Chin Kyung (James) Kim. Two earlier bridges articles described PUST in detail and reported on the dedication ceremony in September 2009, which I had attended. When an invitation came to present a paper this year at the first PUST International Conference on Science and World Peace (PICoSEP), I leapt at the opportunity to return to Pyongyang and see how this improbable institution is getting along.
Attending the meeting was a remarkable experience. Among the 34 speakers from around the world were: Peter Agre, a Nobel Prize-winner from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health; Lord David Alton, a member of the House of Lords in the British Parliament; David Hilmers, a former NASA astronaut with four shuttle flights on his record and now a practicing physician; Stephen Price, a Welsh doctor who specializes in disaster relief missions (such as the Pakistan and Haiti earthquakes); Malcolm Gillis , the former president and now economics professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas; Randy Giles, the American president of Bell Lab Seoul in South Korea; Bryan Cheung and Brian Chan, two young US high-tech entrepreneurs from Liferay, Inc. of Los Angeles, talking about enterprise portal development and trends in the Internet-based economy; Paul McNamara, an agricultural economist from the University of Illinois; Gianaurelio Cuniberti from the Technical University of Dresden, talking about nano- and bio-materials; R.D. Shelton, president of a small US company specializing in scientometrics; and Stuart Thorson of Syracuse University, who has had a program with Kim Chaek University on digital libraries for several years - although it is currently in suspension after the US denied an export license for the needed computers to go to Korea.
And that is just some of the speakers. There were also about a dozen technical presentations by North Korean scientists working in various faculties at several different North Korean universities, including the top one, Kim Il Sung University, and its engineering spinoff, Kim Chaek University. It was fascinating to hear a talk by a North Korean math professor on deriving a formula for pricing a multiple-expiration-date stock option. Yes, stock options like the ones that trade in Chicago. Another paper dealt with calculating the pollution dangers at different locations away from a power plant's smokestack emissions; a third was on removing arsenic from waste gas streams, etc. Both of the last two were by women researchers.
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