HHU PhD student Juan-Diego Santillana-Ortiz reports from his visit at the Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) in Singapore (January 18-23, 2015)

Juan-Diego Santillana-Ortiz is a 3rd year PhD student in Population Genetics at HHU. He is also part of the  interdisciplinary Graduate School "Evolutionary Networks: Organisms, Reactions, Molecules" (E-Norm) and engages as PhD representative of the interdisciplinary Graduate and Research Academy Düsseldorf (iGRAD).


How did you get in contact with the global young scientists summit and who organized it?

Singapore has invested heavily on education, science and technology since its foundation especially in the STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas. The summit is organized by the National Research Foundation of Singapore which is part of Singapore's Prime Minister's Office. Thus the Ministry of Education, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, the four major universities and the Singapore Global Network were involved. The event in itself was held at the Nanyang Technological University which is the premiered technical university in Asia. So, when the opportunity for applications for GYSS@one-north 2015 came late last year, I emailed the organizers and asked for a place to this invitation-only event. They were very kind in letting me participate.

What was your motivation to be a part of it?

As I am in the last year of my PhD studies at our university, this summit is great as it allows to network with other similar students, post-docs and research investigators of various levels plus also learning from the research scientists, pioneers and laureates. Professionally, its also about getting to know what are the opportunities that Singapore offers for my career and life, and what type of cooperation they have with flagship institutes like the MIT, ETH Zürich, UC Berkeley, or TUM here in Germany. A further personal motivation was that Prof. Sydney Brenner (Nobel, Physiology or Medicine 2002) was invited to give two small sessions on the topic of evolution which is what my research here at HHU deals with.

Where there certain requirements to participate or get accepted to the conference?

The application process was the usual CV and letter of references. However, given that the summit also focused on translational research and innovation in scientific practice a further letter from the research and development area of the candidate’s university was also needed. And here, I have to express my total gratitude to former Vice President for Research and Innovation Prof. Dr. Lutz Schmitt who provided me with such letter. I was honored to have his approval and to represent our university in a global event.

The German delegation: Students, German ambassador Dr. Michael Witter in the back and the President of Singapore, Tony Tan Keng Yam in the middle, Juan-Diego (4th from the left) - Photo by Sebastian Campbell

Who took part in this conference?

Speakers invited to the GYSS@one-north are globally recognized scientific leaders (LINK), who are recipients of the Nobel Prize, Fields Medal, Millennium Technology Prize, Turing Award and IEEE Medal of Honor. Besides the speakers, around 300 students (roughly 200 international and 100 who are based in Singapore) also participated.

Was there any eminent scientist you have been impressed by?

Unfortunately Prof. Brenner could not make it to the summit. However, I have to say that having the opportunity to meet and talk with Prof. Michael Levitt (Nobel, Chemistry 2013) was an absolute delight. He is an optimistic, very humane, always-ready-to-jump-in-the-conversation type of person and really passionate about science and research. 

Which topics were discussed during the conference?

Pretty much everything! Most of the talks centered on the discovery that made them recipients of their respective awards. So we listened to talks about ribosomes, algorithms, protein folding, computational intractability, cancer, magnetic tunnel junction and electronic memory, innovation for renewable energy and tech companies, as well as many other topics. All was discussed and talked about indeed… except the humanities and arts, which was my humble suggestion to the organizers. These should be included in future GYSS@one-north events.

Juan-Diego Santillana-Ortiz @GYSS- Photo by Sebastian Campbell

Did you have the chance to ask questions relating to your own field of interest?

Yes, many times! My work here at HHU as a PhD student is about the complexity and evolution of biological networks with a focus on plant science. Thus any opportunity I had I took. In particular, my conversation with Prof. Edmund Melson Clarke (Turing Award 2007) was really productive I would say. But to me, as important as it was to talk to the speakers, it was equally important to talk to the other students at the summit.

What was your personal highlight in Singapore? 

I didn't expect to meet up close and shake hands with the German ambassador, Dr. Michael Witter, and the President of Singapore, Tony Tan Keng Yam. That was unexpected.

Who has taken over the costs of the summit for you?

GYSS@one-north organizers supports participants throughout the event, but they encourage to find additional sources of funding as well. 

Would you recommend this experience to other young scientists?

Absolutely! The summit is especially good for last year PhD students or post-docs and a lot of fun. But clearly anyone looking forward to engaging talks and professional networking should try to participate. In this, my last year at HHU, I want to expand my professional network and increase my connections; this event helped me with that goal. And, moreover, Singapore offers very attractive possibilities for young skilled people in an international environment which is something I look forward to professionally and personally and so do many other young scientists; so, highly recommended!



The GYSS 2015 Closing Ceremony video (including Juan-Diego)

Juan-Diego Santillana-Ortiz  has been interviewed by Mareike Schulz in January 2015.

In person

Juan-Diego Santillana-Ortiz


Master studies:
Biological Sciences

PhD project:
Evolutionary genetics of plant networks

Research group:
Prof. Laura Rose, Institute for Population Genetics at HHU

Member of:
Interdisciplinary Graduate School "Evolutionary Networks: Organisms, Reactions, Molecules" (E-Norm)

Additional functions:
PhD student representative of the interdisciplinary Graduate and Research Academy Düsseldorf (iGRAD) and PhD student representative E-Norm

Research Details

293 Participants and
20 Speakers met for an exchange

GYSS@one-north is organized by the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF)

The Asian Scientist Magazine GYSS@one-north 2015 coverage

The GYSS 2015 Closing Ceremony video

Responsible for the content: