Vietnamese-French Professor Tran Thanh Van, the third Asian physicist that has been granted in 2012 the Tate Medal by the American Institute of Physics, has worked assiduously to create a number of reputable meetings among the world’s famous scientists during the last five decades. He talked to Nhan Dan newspaper.

Sincere loyalty to international friends

* The ninth Meet Vietnam in Binh Dinh province’s Quy Nhon city last August witnessed the participation of the five well-known physicists who won the Nobel Prize. How did you entice them to come to Vietnam?

I’ve known them for about 50 years, since they were young and had not yet received the Nobel Prize. We have fine relationships and trust in each other. On the other hand, as Nobel Prize winners are very busy attending conferences around the world, our meeting needed advanced scientific content to attract them. In addition to the Nobel Prize winners, the scientists who discovered the Higgs boson particle, a hot issue that draws attention, were also present at this year’s Meet Vietnam.

* The International Centre for Interdisciplinary Science and Education (ICISE) was inaugurated in Quy Nhon under your initiative. What is the centre’s operational objective?

I started building the centre in Quy Nhon in 2008 with great support from local leaders. My ultimate goal is to turn the facility into an international centre for scientists to meet and hold world-class seminars, as well as to bring top scientists to Vietnam to exchange ideas with local ones, and to create chances for Vietnamese scientists to access to the latest scientific achievements.

Know how to swim, jump into the water

* During the past half century, how did you make a prestigious " brand " for your famous meetings – Meet Moriond, Meet Blois and Meet Vietnam – around the world?

I was 30 when I first held Meet Moriond. At that time, I worked in an institute for theoretical physics in France and was doing a thesis on the same topic under study at the institute for experimental physics. So I organised a meeting for the two parties to meet and discuss scientific issues to improve the study. At that time, we encountered many difficulties, as most major scientific conferences allowed only leaders or well-known scientists to attend and young people had few opportunities. For that reason, I held events for young people. The meetings were formed in this way.

* So what do you think young Vietnamese scientists should do to develop themselves?

Generally, what we should do now is give them independence and the right to do what they want. For young scientists, they should not be passive. If you want to learn to swim, you must jump into the water. You may be washed away and drowned, but you can’t swim if you don’t dare to jump.

* You are a scientific researcher, but now organising meetings takes up most of your time. Do you consider it a sacrifice?

If I did not have credibility in scientific research, the meetings could not be held. There are scientists who do not like to host meetings, but some others find that they have a duty to organise scientific meetings and conferences. I do not call it a sacrifice; I have accepted it.

Odon Vallet scholarships – the spiritual encouragement

* Along with other fine friendships in the science world, you also have a good relationship with Prof Odon Vallet, whom you have accompanied for many years in providing the scholarship bearing his name. How did you meet Prof Vallet?

I began awarding scholarships to Vietnamese students in 1994. In 2000, I proposed that Prof Odon Vallet should present scholarships to five students and donate to the construction of SOS Children's Villages in Vietnam. One year later, Prof Vallet arrived in Vietnam and saw that his donation was being used efficiently, so he agreed to contribute to the scholarships, which have been given to 50-100 students each year.

As Prof Vallet spent a lot on the fund, worth thousands of scholarships, we agreed to name the scholarship fund after him. Since 2001, Odon Vallet scholarships worth a total of 120 billion VND (5.7 million USD) have been awarded to more than 22,000 outstanding students to encourage them to continue their studies. Now, Odon Valley has become a prestigious scholarship for Vietnamese students.

* And how does the selection process take place?

We contact schools in Vietnam, asking them to pick up their best students for the scholarships. I hope that in the future, students can make records of themselves describing their ability and aspiration and send them directly to us for consideration.

* During the last 12 years, have you received any response from those who received the scholarships?

At this year’s Meet Vietnam in Quy Nhon, a young person named Phan Van Dai, 26, was looking for me to say thank you. Dai was born in a poor family in Dong Trach commune in Quang Binh province’s Bo Trach district. He learned quite well and received Vallet scholarships to continue his studies at university. Although the amount of money was not large, it inspires a spirit and an orientation for them in their life.

I do not expect all the scholarship recipients to become scientists; just useful people in life. For Vietnamese people, the most important thing is the spiritual sense. Giving little money may seem nothing but encouragement. Being given the scholarships is a great honour and we want to give as much honour as possible to Vietnamese students.

Hard-to-explain love for Vietnam

* At the 2006 Meet Vietnam in Hanoi, you said it was your last meeting, as you were old and tired. So, what has motivated you to continue to perform your mission in the past seven years with increasingly large-scale meetings?

I will try as much as I can to organise Meet Vietnam, but it’s very hard for me to explain my motivation and my love for Vietnam. I’m 80 and my health condition is increasingly weak. But I have a treasure, my friendships in the science world, and I want to bring it to Vietnam.

* But how do you find heirs to continue organising Meet Vietnam?

In the past, many people wondered who could replace me to hold Meet Moriond that I founded 50 years ago in France. But since 2008, when I started building the ICISE in Quy Nhon, I could not keep doing it anymore. So I left Meet Moriond to my colleagues in France and now the meetings still run smoothly. In Vietnam, I cannot predict the future but I have to prepare.-VNA