A delegation of Princeton faculty members – including Dean of Engineering Emily A. Carter and Lynn Loo, director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment – took part in and led discussions on major global issues at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum that concluded Friday, Jan. 20, in Davos, Switzerland.
The delegation, led by Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, also included engineering faculty member Denise Mauzerall, who is jointly appointed in civil and environmental engineering and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Each year, the meeting brings together leaders, scholars and practitioners from the public and private sectors to seek solutions to a broad range of world problems. Topics the Princeton faculty addressed included climate change, income inequality and public health, strengthening democracy, and technological innovation. Eisgruber participated in meetings of university leaders from around the world and hosted a “Princeton in Davos” reception for alumni, faculty, media and other conference attendees.
“Princeton has important contributions to make to discussions aimed at solving global challenges, such as the ones that took place in Davos,” Eisgruber said. “The eight Princeton faculty members who participated in the annual meeting have made pathbreaking contributions to a variety of fields, and they exemplify the University’s commitment to teaching and research that make a positive difference in the world.”
In an interview with the news agency Reuters, Carter spoke about innovation as a driver of economic opportunity. “All of the things that make our lives easier, all the discoveries in health, all the discoveries in sustain able energy, the discoveries in information technology, cell phones – everything you can think of that involves technology and has made our lives better – started in a laboratory somewhere or in a computer simulation somewhere, long ago. At least two decades ago, on average, before it gets to market,” Carter said. “So it’s so important to be able to find those discoveries that will lead to the next great industry that will then provide many, many jobs.”
On Thursday afternoon, Eisgruber introduced the University’s interdisciplinary “IdeasLab” panel discussion, “Responding to Climate Change,” which featured four University faculty members leading discussions about adapting to and mitigating climate change.
Taking part were Carter; Mauzerall; Guy Nordenson, professor of architecture; and Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute.
Eisgruber also moderated an informal panel discussion hosted by Princeton University and Microsoft, “Income Inequality and Opportunities to Improve the Human Condition,” which featured Bill Gates, founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft Corp.; Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs, Emeritus; Hon. Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development in Canada; and Carter.
“Technology has amazing power to make differences in people’s lives,” Carter said in an interview following the panel. “It is the case too that people can look at technology and be fearful of it. We all know that sometimes technologies end up displacing jobs because of automation. The fact is that what technology ultimately should be able to do is to free up people to be creative. One thing that people have over machines, every kind of machine, including computers, is the ability to be creative in a way that is uniquely human.”
Andlinger Center Director Loo, who also is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, participated in a dinner discussion, “Beyond the Possible,” with scientists, technologists and artists on turning science fiction into fact.
Loo also participated in a “Breakfast Influencer Panel” on energy technology and women in technology, sponsored by the web-based marketplace Tradeshift. Loo said work at the Andlinger Center ranges from fundamental investigation into materials with potential use in energy technology to start-up companies taking research into the market. “Fundamental science develops into innovations, which then can be pushed out,” she said.
Princeton delegates were interviewed by many of the journalists covering Davos. Deaton was queried on a range of topics, including economic inequality, globalization and the new political landscape. Oppenheimer participated in a CNBC panel discussion on the future of sustainable energy. Politics professor Jan-Werner M√ºller spoke with several outlets, including Reuters, which also interviewed Carter live on Facebook. Carter also contributed a post to the Forum’s blog on how women can shatter the “glass ceiling” in their careers.
“My words of advice are these,” Carter wrote. “Find work that gives your life meaning and don’t let anyone dissuade you from pursuing it. Constructive action is the best answer to prejudice. Your hard and excellent work will speak for itself.”
Eisgruber’s interviews included one with Yahoo! Finance in which he was asked for the state of Princeton today. “The University is very strong,” Eisgruber replied. “We have the most socio-economically diverse class the University has ever admitted, and that’s something we think is very important to our future and to the country’s future.”
He also talked about the importance of endowments to enable colleges and universities to achieve their teaching and research missions.
“From our standpoint, we feel the most important thing is to be explaining what these endowments do for colleges and universities. At Princeton, they’re supporting our financial aid program. It’s more affordable to be a Princeton student today than when I was a student there,” said Eisgruber, a graduate of the Class of 1983. “It’s more affordable for most students to go to a place like Princeton University than it is to go to their local state university because that endowment is paying for half of what the college or university does.”
As part of the official World Economic Forum program, Duncan Haldane, the 2016 Nobel laureate in physics and the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics, discussed his journey of scientific discovery and joined other science laureates at a panel on “Improving the State of the World.” Deaton participated in a similar event featuring economics laureates, and also shared his expertise in sessions on combating inequality and raising life expectancy and expectations.
M√ºller gave presentations on “Pundits, Professors and Predictions,” “Strengthening Democracy” and “The Post-EU Era.”
Oppenheimer, Nordenson, Mauzerall and Carter also gave solo presentations on the topics they presented in the “IdeasLab” panel.