As Indonesia marks 70 years of independence, young scientists look ahead to the 100th

Young Indonesian scientists aim to have a say in their country’s future by creating a science agenda. xtock/

Indonesia celebrates 70 years of independence today, August 17, and just 30 years from now, this nation, the third-largest democracy with the most populous Muslim majority, will turn 100.

What fundamental scientific questions should Indonesians be asking on the country’s century of independence? A group of young Indonesian scientists, which I am part of, has been thinking about this.

We present our answers in a book titled Science 45: An Indonesian Science Agenda Towards a Century of Independence.

Science for society

I am part of the newly established Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences, a group of mid-career Indonesian scientists with doctoral degrees. Our organisation is under the auspices of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI ).

We’ve put together the Indonesia Science Agenda to contribute to a long-term vision for a better Indonesia. The country dreams of being a united and sovereign nation that is just, prosperous, eminent, competitive and well respected by other nations. But it would be difficult to achieve this dream if we continue the way we do research with only short-term planning as usual.

We are aware that society cannot survive long without science and that science needs a supportive society to thrive and develop. So we ask ourselves: what are the scientific questions we should explore based on challenges that Indonesian society will face 30 years from now?

Exploring the unknown

So what would we like to explore?

We’d like to know more about identity, diversity and culture. What makes “Indonesia” Indonesia? Is there a future for nationalism? What is the future of humanity in our technological era? We’d also like to trace the journey of human evolution.

As an archipelagic nation with lots of land and marine life and bio-resources, we’d like to understand more about our biodiversity. Indonesia is home to approximately 11% of the earth’s species, but excessive exploitation threatens it.

How will we protect our biodiversity? Is our future dependent on the sea? Will we be able to increase production of sea food two- or three-fold without exhausting the resources?

We want to know more about human life, nutrition and health. How do we obtain deeper understanding of the interaction between bacteria, human beings, animals and the environment? How can we ensure health and dignity in old age? What’s next after stem cell research?

We want to learn more about the things that sustain human life. Do we have enough water, food and energy? How can we provide water for all? Can vaccines and medicine be harvested from agricultural land? How can we use earth’s heat as a source of energy?

We want to know more about our earth, its climate and the universe. We’d like to understand more about the rumblings of mother earth. We want to observe the universe from the equator. We’d like to know more about carbon and climate change.

As Indonesia sits on the Ring of Fire, we want to know more about living with the threat of natural disasters. How can scientific research help us conceive a strategic plan in living in harmony with nature?

We want to explore more on material and computational science. The next generation will inherit our natural resources, yet how much of these are left and where? How can science map out Indonesia’s resource potential in a comprehensive, fast and accurate way? How can we develop new materials to more efficiently harvest solar energy? Conventional methods of mining are known to be inefficient and environmentally destructive, so can science and technology help us in improving the way we mine?

Money makes the world go round. How can we integrate our regional economies to compete and withstand the pressures of the global economy? What sort of institutions would ensure prosperity?

How can we prepare Indonesian youth for the future? How do we design public policies that are both effective and democratic?

Our process

The questions we ask are of strategic importance for Indonesia. But they are also universal ones which are relevant for the world. We are asking questions on the frontiers of science: things that haven’t been explored and what the world also has yet to have answers for. The scientific value of these questions is sound. We really are letting our imaginations run wild.

We followed two working models: the Dutch Science Agenda and the questions that the journal Science asked in its 125th anniversary. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) formulated 49 key questions facing scientists and the public in that country. In 2005, the journal Science identified 125 important questions facing American scientists and the public.

We brainstormed and collected nearly 200 questions. After one year of deliberations, we’ve whittled this list down to 45 questions under eight topic clusters.

We dropped questions regarding management or administrative issues. Those are important, but we want to ask questions that have longevity.

We also dropped questions on nuclear power, for example. We feel that with the current nuclear technology, it is no longer a scientific question but a policy one. We also want to go beyond stem cell research.

A science fund for Indonesia

This is a perfect time for Indonesian scientists to dare ask this important question. Scientists in Indonesia have been facing financial and administrative challenges to do research. But recently the Indonesian government agreed to support an Indonesian Science Fund to finance world-class scientific research.

The fund, which will be given to researchers in grants for several years, can hopefully allow scientists to provide innovative solutions to the problems that the Indonesian public face.

Voice of the scientific community

The Indonesian Science Agenda is our attempt to add the voice of Indonesia’s scientific community to the national conversation. We hope the agenda will provide inspiration for Indonesian scientists and a basis for research plans in the near- and long-term future.

As scientists we have a responsibility for the future of our field. We hope we can add a voice of science in the formulation of government policies in the future and for a better Indonesia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A correction was made to this article. A previous version incorrectly stated that the Indonesian Science Fund will be given to researchers in block grants.