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On Dec. 2, 2019, some of the greatest minds in New Jersey (and beyond!) attended Liberty Science Center’s inaugural Genius of New Jersey celebration.
The event – a salute to the innovators making NJ a world leader in cutting-edge applied science – was attended by friends, supporters, and state leaders. Throughout the night, we honored three of the most accomplished innovators in the state: Bonnie Bassler, Chair of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, who is developing novel antimicrobial therapies to render pathogenic bacteria harmless; Dr. Robert Hariri, Chairman, Founder & CEO of Celularity, Inc. who is pioneering the use of stem cells to cure disease and slow aging; and David Rosenberg, CEO and Co-Founder of AeroFarms, the world’s leader in mass-scale vertical indoor farming.
We also honored one non-New Jersian, Sebastian Thrun, godfather of the self-driving car and CEO of Kitty Hawk, a company spun off from a moonshot effort to “free the world from traffic.”
The night began with photos and fun in Governors Hall. Attendees enjoyed tech displays from Picatinny Arsenal, Kitty Hawk, and LensCloud 3D. Some of the displays included Kitty Hawk’s “The Flyer,” an all-electric vertical take-off and landing single-seat aerial vehicle that can fly 3 ft. to 10 ft. over water, and LensCloud 3D’s full-body 3D scanner that contains 120 cameras which all fire simultaneously for instant capture.
The program began in the Joseph D. Williams 3D Science Theater. LSC President and CEO Paul Hoffman opened the night with an ode to the innovation that has come out of the Garden State.
“New Jersey has more scientists per square mile than any other state,” Hoffman said.
The evening’s first honoree, Sebastian Thrun, came out and participated in a conversation with Hoffman about the future of self-driving cars – and how people shouldn’t be worried about machines becoming smarter in such a way that they are a threat to humans.
“We build machines to make us stronger,” Thrun said. “There’s nothing to fear.”
Thrun said he believes self-driving cars will become a staple of our lives within the next ten years. “We are at the point where the technology is there,” he said.
Next, the event’s first Genius Moderator, Laura Overdeck – Vice Chair of LSC’s Board of Trustees and Founder and President of Bedtime Math – took the stage to introduce David Rosenberg.
Overdeck gave a brief recap of Rosenberg’s company, AeroFarms, and the incredible work they do: “They are growing over 800 species of plants that we eat, 365 days a year with no natural sunlight and 95 percent less water,” she said.
Rosenberg joined Overdeck on stage and discussed how AeroFarms’ mission has continued to evolve.
“Our mission was to build farms all over the world,” Rosenberg said. “But it’s really evolved to grow plants for the betterment of humanity.”
Next, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop took the stage to introduce Bonnie Bassler.
Bassler gave a presentation about all the things that bacteria can do – both the good and the bad – and engaged in a conversation with Fulop about her quest to better understand the behavior of bacteria.
“What we’re learning is we all live in a consortium with bacteria,” Bassler said. “Bacteria can kill us, and they can give us our lives...the question my lab asks is, how can they do this?”
Bassler also gave a shoutout to her students at Princeton University. “They’re ingenious,” she said. “They’re fearless. They’re willing to think about ideas that no one’s ever thought about before...how basic science gets done is by young people who just don’t believe all the things they’ve read.”
Next, David Kadio-Moroko, a Principal in the Advisory Services practice of Ernst & Young LLP where he is the Innovation Leader for Financial Services, introduced the night’s final honoree: Dr. Robert Hariri.
“He’s probably one of the only people who can claim to be both a brain surgeon and a rocket scientist,” Kadio-Moroko said before bringing Hariri on stage.
In a conversation with Kadio-Moroko, Hariri discussed how cellular therapies are helping with aging disorders such as muscle loss and cognitive decline.
“You can positively impact lives without breaking the bank,” Hariri said.
Next, LSC Board Co-Chair, President and CEO of Urby, and President and CEO of Ironstate Development Company David Barry took the stage to discuss his excitement for LSC’s upcoming SciTech Scity, a curated community (“mini-city”) of tech entrepreneurs, scientists, students, and other forward thinking people and organizations working together to create a better future for all.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity to develop something great for Jersey City,” Barry said.
Hoffman announced two major, transformative gifts to SciTech Scity, totaling $15 million.
The first gift, $10 million, is the largest donation LSC has ever received, and it comes from one of the most revered individuals in Jersey City: statesman, real estate developer, and philanthropist Congressman Frank Guarini.
“The entire SciTech Scity campus, including Liberty Science Center, will be named the Frank J. Guarini Innovation Campus,” Hoffman announced.
The second gift of $5 million came from David Barry, on behalf of himself and other Jersey City real estate developers.
Following the program, guests enjoyed dinner – which included greens from AeroFarms – as well as a surprise spelling bee onstage featuring 13-year-old Christopher Serrao, a New Jersey resident and co-champion of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee.