Liberty Science Center’s Genius Gala goes virtual for the first time

On Sept. 21, 2020, Liberty Science Center’s Genius Gala went virtual for the first time in its nine-year history.

This gala event – called “I Stand For Science” – was streamed publicly on our Facebook page. We welcomed viewers nationwide to join us in celebrating scientific achievement in support of LSC’s mission to inspire and prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Watch the full video here:

The three recipients of this year’s Genius Awards were Dr. William Conan Davis, Dr. Jennifer A. Lewis, and Moshe Safdie.

Dr. William Conan Davis is a pioneering African-American food chemist whose research resulted in the development of instant mashed potatoes, “perfect” evenly cooked potato chips, soft-serve ice cream, and the formula for Dasani bottled water. The 94-year-old Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient was inspired to pursue his chosen field after attending a workshop with George Washington Carver, the most prominent African-American scientist and inventor of the 20th century. Davis is a Professor Emeritus in the Natural Sciences Department at St. Phillips College in San Antonio, where the science building bears his name.

Dr. Jennifer A. Lewis is the Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The 56-year-old is a pioneer in 3D bioprinting whose team developed a method that allows for the creation of thick vascularized tissues and 3D organs such as a kidney, skin graft, and even a human heart, using a custom-built 3D printer and unique inks that contain the building blocks of human tissue. One critical advance from her team is the engineering and construction of a network of tubes that mimic blood vessels. A vascular system to deliver nutrients throughout bio-printed tissue will be essential to its survival.

Moshe Safdie is a world-renowned architect and the principal of his eponymous architectural firm. His work has spanned the globe, from Singapore, Jerusalem, Montreal, and Boston, and is guided by the principle of bringing light, greenery and water into the world’s densest urban areas–or, as he has put it: “For everyone, a garden.” This vision is manifested in such works as the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, a trio of sweeping towers topped by an expansive green pavilion; and Jewel Changi Airport, where a four-story tiered garden surrounds the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the 130-foot Rain Vortex. The 81-year-old’s designs also include world-leading museums, such as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem; Virasat-e-Khalsa, the museum of Sikhism, in India; and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

At this event, we were also joined by four “COVID-19 Challengers,” innovative scientists who are challenging the coronavirus and challenging misconceptions about the virus. Our four “COVID-19 Challengers” were Dr. Talk Zaks, Dr. Perry Halkitis, Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, and Dr. George Church.

Dr. Tal Zaks, Chief Medical Officer at Moderna Therapeutics, shared his optimism about the first candidate COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. to enter Phase III clinical trials.

Dr. Perry Halkitis, Dean of Rutgers School of Public Health and a research psychologist who studies the LGBTQ population, talked about Rutgers’ work with the NJ Department of Health recruiting contact tracers and his own research on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ individuals during Covid-19.

Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, Commissioner of Public Health for the city of Milwaukee, the first city to declare racism a public health crisis (now 80 cities and counties have followed Milwaukee’s lead), spoke about her health department’s discovery early in the pandemic that middle-aged Black men were of greater risk of COVID-19 than Americans who had traveled internationally.

Dr. George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and serial genomics entrepreneur, spoke about the DIY COVID-19 vaccine that he administered to himself.

Our Virtual Genius Gala also honored three “I Stand For Science Student Heroes,” who are three incredible students from New Jersey already hard at work shaping the future and creating a better world for all of us: Taylor Brown, Jadeep Singh, and Ramzi Saber.

Taylor Brown, a rising high school senior, took part in LSC’s Partners in Science program over the summer, working with public health safety experts to guide new protocols that have helped the Science Center safely reopen to guests. She also became a certified contact tracer, and plans to pursue a career in medicine.

Jagdeep Singh recently placed second in the 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search for his work in artificial intelligence and machine learning. He is currently a first-year student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ramzi Saber spent his childhood in Casablanca, Morocco, where the stars are clear and bright over the Western Sahara. Once relocated to New Jersey, he kept his eyes on the skies—and gathered the first concrete mathematical, visual, and chemical data of an exoplanet 125 light years away.

The night also featured a number of prominent speakers and guests, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy; Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop; and reigning Miss America, Camille Schrier, who earned the title on the strength of her expertise as a biochemist and her advocacy for women in science and engineering.

In addition, the program featured a look at the spectacular night sky through the Science Center’s virtual planetarium; incredible magic by virtual illusionist Marco Tempest; and mind boggling Rubik’s Cube tricks by former LSC Speedcuber-in-Residence Anthony Brooks.

The Genius Gala would not be possible without support from generous and committed community leaders. The Virtual Genius Gala’s Corporate Chairs are Michael J. Inserra, Senior Vice Chair and Americas Deputy Managing Partner, EY; and Gary D. St. Hilaire, President and CEO, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

The Innovation Chairs are Jennifer A. Chalsty, Director, Advisory Council, James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute, John Hopkins University; Alma DeMetropolis, Managing Director; Market Manager—New Jersey, J.P. Morgan Private Bank; President, New Jersey Market Leadership Team; and Josh S. Weston, Honorary Chairman, ADP.

The Co-Chairs of the Gala are David Barry, President and CEO, Ironstate Development Company; President and CEO, Urby; Christopher S. Boerner, PhD, EVP and Chief Commercialization Officer, Bristol-Myers Squibb; Sheri B. Bronstein, Chief Human Resources Officer, Bank of America; David M. Daly, President and COO, PSE&G; Matthew D. Ellis, EVP and CFO, Verizon Communications; Bruce L. Levy, President and CEO, BMR Energy; Jeffrey M. Mandler, Co-Founder and Past CEO, CarePoint Health; Laura Bilodeau Overdeck, Founder and President, Bedtime Math; John Overdeck, Co-Chairman and Co-Founder, Two Sigma; Carlos Rodriguez, President and CEO, ADP; Gregory Tusar, Head of Institutional Product, Coinbase; and Susan Keating and Norman Worthington, CEO and Executive Chairman, The Star2Star Communications and Blueface Companies.

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