The 2014 Young Laureates, in London to receive their awards at the Royal Society on 17 November, described how Rolex’s support for their projects will positively impact their communities and the world at large.

“Twenty years ago my country [Rwanda] was tragically hit by genocide. This Award shows that as young people, we can be at the forefront of finding sustainable solutions to our country’s problems,” said Olivier Nsengimana.

For Francesco Sauro, “the exploration of the underworld of caves remains one of the last frontiers of knowledge on our planet Earth. The Rolex Award will help me to move a step forward in this new land and to raise awareness on the importance of this great human adventure of our time.”

Arthur Zang said the Award was invaluable, “because it proves that it is possible to think and develop scientific and technological solutions to African problems by Africans”.

Young pioneers

Keynote speaker Professor Brian Cox, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and British particle physicist, best known as a presenter of popular science programmes for the BBC, gave several examples of young pioneers throughout history whose work, like the five honourees, demonstrated the energy, tenacity and creativity to change the world around them.

One of these young geniuses was Albert Einstein, who, at age 26, recognized the “need to rip up Newton’s laws, which had ruled since the 1680s, and formulate a completely new theory of space and time”, said Cox. Einstein had the confidence and courage to overturn 300 years of physics theories, to shift well-accepted paradigms, and to create the theory of relativity.

For Cox, innovators fall into two categories: the “sage”, who works hard to change things, and the “magician”, like Einstein. “Magicians produce magic and I think we are here tonight to honour magicians,” he said.

These five young “magicians”, the five Young Laureates being celebrated, were Neeti Kailas, India; Olivier Nsengimana, Rwanda; Francesco Sauro, Italy; Arthur Zang, Cameroon; and Hosam Zowawi, Saudi Arabia.

Special programme

Bertrand Gros, Chairman of Rolex SA, welcomed the distinguished guests who included members of the 2014 Rolex Awards Jury, Rolex board members and the 10 former Young Laureates from the 2010 and 2012 Awards’ series. These Young Laureates and the 2014 Young Laureates are beneficiaries of the special programme to encourage innovative young people, aged between 18 and 30, which was set up by Rolex in 2009 as an extension of the almost 40 year-old Rolex Awards.

“The idea behind the [Rolex Awards] was to provide help and encouragement to original and creative projects that seek to break new ground and to capture the spirit of enterprise, which our company has always considered as a real key to success… Rolex has always tried to promote and help talented young people in different areas, such as sports, arts, technology, environment, science and exploration,” Bertrand Gros said.

“Particularly in these times we all know that it is tough for enthusiastic young people with projects to be able to meet the right contacts, the right connections, to get enough support or financial assistance, allowing them to achieve their goals. Therefore Rolex is extremely pleased and proud to contribute to the accomplishment of their passion and their dreams, he said.”

Respected scientists

Among the audience were many respected British scientists and science/environmental leaders, including Lord Paul Drayson, former Minister of State for Science and Innovation; Professor Monique Simmonds, Director of the Kew Innovation Unit; Charlie Mayhew, Chief Executive of the Tusk Trust; and Dr Claire Cockcroft, oceanographer and TV presenter; as well as the Deputy Head of Mission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the High Commissioner of the Republic of Cameroon  – diplomats representing two of the Young Laureates’ countries.

Introducing the Young Laureates and their projects, brought to life through short films, Adam Rutherford, British geneticist, author and well-known BBC broadcaster, represented the Jury and pointed out how difficult it was to narrow down the choice to just five winners. “But we are convinced that these four men and one woman from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East will have a profound impact on the world,” he said.

Local heroes

Rutherford handed over the floor to five of his fellow Jury members who presented the Awards to the five Young Laureates. “We need young local heroes in Africa, and you are clearly one of them,” said Yolanda Kakabadse, Ecuadorian environmentalist and president of the WWF International in giving Olivier Nsengimana his prize. “We were fascinated by the incredible journey you are undertaking to an unknown corner of the planet,” said astrobiologist and NASA planetary scientist Dr Kevin Hand to Francesco Sauro.

Biologist, geneticist and herself a Fellow of the Royal Society, Dame Linda Partridge saluted Hosam Zowawi for the importance of the work he is doing to make us aware of the global threat that antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses to human health, and for his efforts to communicate science and to make a difference in his home region. Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré took special note of Neeti Kailas’s project:  “We liked your project, Neeti, because your device is a beautiful design that solves a problem in an elegant and simple way. It will potentially benefit many families and change many lives.”

The nearly 200 guests left the Royal Society inspired and moved by these young visionaries who by harnessing the latest technology and furthering science are meeting today’s greatest challenges with ingenuity, passion and commitment.

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