Top 10 schools in Asia

Some of the world's most prestigious universities aren't in America.

Top 10 schools in Asia
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • China's Tsinghua and Peking University are on par with Harvard and MIT.
  • These 10 universities consistently shuffle around for top tier status in Asian college rankings.
  • Universities in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and China have churned out dozens of Nobel Laureates and other renowned figures.

Asia possesses some of the most cutting-edge and finest universities in the world. While we're all accustomed to the powerhouse and traditional American and U.K.-based universities, in the past 100 years Asia has seen a surge of growth.

Leading the way in terms of advanced future research, while also partnering with established university systems around the world — Asia has become a destination for some of the world's best and brightest.

Tsinghua University

Tsinghua University is one of the most prestigious institutions in China. Leading a rigorous multidisciplinary system for the past three decades, it has gone through many iterations and changes since its creation in 1911.

Known as one of the most elite schools in China, and referred to some as the "MIT of China," the school prides itself on its strength in engineering and the sciences. Admitted students must have excellent scores on their national exams. Tsinghua consistently ranks in the top 30 of The World University Rankings.

The campus is located in northwest Beijing alongside other colleges inside of a designated university hub. Built on the former Qing Dynasty royal gardens, the campus has a remarkably beautiful synthesis of ancient Chinese and Western architecture. Two Nobel Prize winners have either went to or worked for the university. Many graduates go on to become influential in Chinese politics.

Peking University

Peking University is considered to be the first national university in China, having been founded in the late 19th century. Dubbed the "Harvard of China," it is a major cultural hub and center of China's humanities.

Peking also sits on former Qing Dynasty imperial gardens. Over 2,000 international students attend the university every year. It is well known for having one of the largest libraries in all of Asia, with over 11 million books and other printed resources in its massive library. Three Nobel prize winners have been associated with the university.

National University of Singapore

The National University of Singapore or (NUS) is the oldest university in the country and has the greatest amount of students, too. While it is an outstanding school for engineering and technology, it also has a dedicated center for innovation and entrepreneurship in the tech field. This "technopreneurship" focus has been around for the past 30 years.

The university has a flexible degree granting system — the students have the ability to transfer between departments and different faculties early on to facilitate a more robust, cross-disciplinary education rather than focusing too much on one subfield.

Their four "Research Centres of Excellence" focus on quantum technologies, cancer research, mechanobiology, and environmental life sciences. They have an impressive list of alumni that include four Singaporean prime ministers and presidents and two Malaysian prime ministers.

University of Tokyo

University of Tokyo is the first national university of Japan established in 1877. Spread between three campuses between Hongo, Komaba, and Kashiwa, the University of Tokyo has a number of facilities throughout the metropolitan area.

The university has a unique course structure, where students embark first on a two year liberal arts education at one campus before transferring to another location to finish their intended major. From a previous ranking by the Professional Ranking of World Universities, the University of Tokyo ranked second behind Harvard University in having the most number of alumni having CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies.

One of their campuses (Shirokane) has one of the largest supercomputers in the field that is focused on genome research.

Seoul National University

Originally founded by the Japanese empire in the 1940s, the Japanese imperial college standing was eventually abolished and merged into the university with a number of other nearby institutions.

Seoul National University consistently ranks globally and in the top universities in Asia. It is situated in the heart of South Korea's capital city. The main campus, Gwanak has over 200 buildings for all of its students and staff and even comes with its own subway station.

There are a number of famous alumni and international political figures that include the former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, Song Sang-hyun former president of the International Criminal Court and Lee Jong-wook, former head of the World Health Organization.

University of Hong Kong

Founded by a British governor in 1911, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) was originally a prominently English-based university. In 1927 it began to integrate within the surrounding Chinese culture and begin offering courses and degrees in Chinese. Their main building was built in 1912 and is considered a national monument, alongside it are a number of other British colonial architecture buildings.

As a very selective school, it's a highly sought out after place for students from mainland China. All students are required to be proficient in both English and Chinese language courses. Many HKU graduates go on to become Chinese politicians and hold positions of power in private industry.

Duke Kunshan University

Duke Kunshan University sets itself apart from the other top asian schools on this list, as it is relatively new — it was founded in 2013. The university is an international partnership between Duke University and Wuhan University. This said, it offers a wide range of world-class academic programs for Chinese and international students.

Duke Kunshan is based in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, China. Situated on a 200 acre area, the entire campus is decidedly modern and in close proximity to Shanghai by means of a high-speed rail. The city of Kunshan has become a leading hub of high tech research and manufacturing in China. It also considered to be one of the fastest areas of growth in all of China.

Their Global Health Research Center has been established with the Duke Global Health Institute, in order to address health issues endemic to China and the region. Many of its research programs are centered around the Chinese population and the health problems they face, such as chronic disease and environmental health.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Another prestigious university in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was created in 1991. Their main focus is on science, technology and engineering. The campus is based in the Northern part of the Sai Kung district and is built out of terraces carved in the hillside.

Their Lee Shau Kee Library is known for containing one of the largest collections of maps of China and Asia — they were produced by cartographers over the past 500 years. Alongside many other prestigious Asian universities on this list, HKUST has previously ranked as a top university of all of Asia. A recent Global University Employability Ranking, found that graduates have some of the highest employment rates in all of Greater China within the past five years.

Kyoto University

Kyoto University is the second oldest Japanese university and one of Japan's National Seven Universities. Its campus is spread between three campuses residing in Yoshida, Uji, and Katsura. Founded in 1897 and originally known as the Kyoto Imperial University, the institution received its new name in 1947.

It has a number of notable research facilities, such as the Yukawa Institute for theoretical physics, which has produced many Nobel Laureates — 10 to be exact. While predominantly a Japanese institution, the university offers a 15-week program at the Education Center for Japanese Language and Culture for international researchers that want to learn and study the language.

Pohang University of Science and Technology

Another great university to come out of South Korea, established in 1986 the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) is a leading research facility with tight ties to the technological industry. It has a bilingual campus, making it a popular university in both South Korea and the world.

A privately-run institution, POSTECH is a great school for international English students as more than 85 percent of the classes that count for credit are conducted in English. With a small enrollment and research centered approach, the university attracts a number of top students from all over the world.

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The distances between the stars are so vast that they can make your brain melt. Take for example the Voyager 1 probe, which has been traveling at 35,000 miles per hour for more than 40 years and was the first human object to cross into interstellar space. That sounds wonderful except, at its current speed, it will still take another 40,000 years to cross the typical distance between stars.

Worse still, if you are thinking about interstellar travel, nature provides a hard limit on acceleration and speed. As Einstein showed, it's impossible to accelerate any massive object beyond the speed of light. Since the galaxy is more than 100,000 light-years across, if you are traveling at less than light speed, then most interstellar distances would take more than a human lifetime to cross. If the known laws of physics hold, then it seems a galaxy-spanning human civilization is impossible.

Unless of course you can build a warp drive.

Warp speed!

Ah, the warp drive, that darling of science fiction plot devices. So, what about a warp drive? Is that even a really a thing?

Let's start with the "warping" part of a warp drive. Without doubt, Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity ("GR") represents space and time as a 4-dimensional "fabric" that can be stretched and bent and folded. Gravity waves, representing ripples in the fabric of spacetime, have now been directly observed. So, yes spacetime can be warped. The warping part of a warp drive usually means distorting the shape of spacetime so that two distant locations can be brought close together — and you somehow "jump" between them.

This was a basic idea in science fiction long before Star Trek popularized the name "warp drive." But until 1994, it had remained science fiction, meaning there was no science behind it. That year, Miguel Alcubierre wrote down a solution to the basic equations of GR that represented a region that compressed spacetime ahead of it and expanded spacetime behind to create a kind of traveling warp bubble. This was really good news for warp drive fans.

The problems with a warp drive

There were some problems though. Most important was that this "Alcubierre drive" required lots of "exotic matter" or "negative energy" to work. Unfortunately, there's no such thing. These are things theorists dreamed up to stick into the GR equations in order to do cool things like make stable open wormholes or functioning warp drives.

It's also noteworthy that researchers have raised other concerns about an Alcubierre drive — like how it would violate quantum mechanics or how when you arrived at your destination it would destroy everything in front of the ship in an apocalyptic flash of radiation.

Warp drives: A new hope

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Recently, however, there seemed to be good news on the warp drive front with the publication this April of a new paper by Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martre entitled "Introducing Physical Warp Drives." The good thing about the Bobrick and Martre paper was it was extremely clear about the meaning of a warp drive.

Understanding the equations of GR means understanding what's on either side of the equals sign. On one side, there is the shape of spacetime, and on the other, there is the configuration of matter-energy. The traditional route with these equations is to start with a configuration of matter-energy and see what shape of spacetime it produces. But you can also go the other way around and assume the shape of spacetime you want (like a warp bubble) and determine what kind of configuration of matter-energy you will need (even if that matter-energy is the dream stuff of negative energy).

Warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested.

What Bobrick and Martre did was step back and look at the problem more generally. They showed how all warp drives were composed of three regions: an interior spacetime called the passenger space; a shell of material, with either positive or negative energy, called the warping region; and an outside that, far enough away, looks like normal unwarped spacetime. In this way they could see exactly what was and was not possible for any kind of warp drive. (Watch this lovely explainer by Sabine Hossenfelder for more details). They even showed that you could use good old normal matter to create a warp drive that, while it moved slower than light speed, produced a passenger area where time flowed at a different rate than in the outside spacetime. So even though it was a sub-light speed device, it was still an actual warp drive that could use normal matter.

That was the good news.

The bad news was this clear vision also showed them a real problem with the "drive" part of the Alcubierre drive. First of all, it still needed negative energy to work, so that bummer remains. But worse, Bobrick and Martre reaffirmed a basic understanding of relativity and saw that there was no way to accelerate an Alcubierre drive past light speed. Sure, you could just assume that you started with something moving faster than light, and the Alcubierre drive with its negative energy shell would make sense. But crossing the speed of light barrier was still prohibited.

So, in the end, the Star Trek version of the warp drive is still not a thing. I know this may bum you out if you were hoping to build that version of the Enterprise sometime soon (as I was). But don't be too despondent. The Bobrick and Martre paper really did make headway. As the authors put it in the end:

"One of the main conclusions of our study is that warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested"

That really is progress.

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