LSC honors Sara Seager, Vitalik Buterin, Laurie Santos, and George Church at Genius Gala 7.0

LSC News

Some of the world’s most visionary men and women of science packed the building on Friday, May 11 as we threw our Genius Gala 7.0, an annual star-studded event honoring pioneers in science, technology, and innovation.

For this year’s event, we honored four disruptive innovators: astrophysicist and planet hunter Sara Seager, cryptocreator Vitalik Buterin, cross-species cognitive psychologist Laurie Santos, and genomics pioneer George Church. These four honorees were chosen for how they use their exceptional intellectual and creative abilities to disrupt and innovate both in their respective fields and for the betterment of humanity.

This year’s event was also particularly special because we celebrated LSC’s 25th anniversary, as well as all the thrilling new additions that have come to the Science Center in the last year. Some of these additions include the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium and LSC Giant Dome Theater, the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, and the Weston Family Lab for Earth and Space Exploration, a stunning new exhibition and laboratory classroom.

Before the program began, attendees walked the red carpet, took drone selfies in the Dronie Station, enjoyed planetarium shows, and explored new spaces such as the Weston Family Lab.

Before the program

In the Weston Family Lab for Earth and Space Exploration

At the Dronie Station

The Genius Gala always brings out some interesting creatures, and this year was no exception. We were joined by three life-size dinosaurs named Crunch, Teddy, and Vinnie who energized guests with their fiery personalities and sharp teeth.

Dinosaurs on the red carpet!

Dinosaurs on the red carpet!

We were also joined by R2D2 – in his snazzy tuxedo!


Finally it was time for the program to begin. The night’s event opened with a few words from Anthony Skiadas, an LSC trustee and senior vice president and controller of Verizon Communications. Verizon recently signed on as a founding sponsor of SciTech Scity – a mini-city that will be built next to LSC, and will serve as a hub for launching science and tech start-up companies.

Anthony Skiadas

Skiadas introduced LSC President and CEO Paul Hoffman, who shared several interesting numbers related to the Science Center: such as 14,000,000 (the number of people who have visited LSC over the quarter of a century), 250,000+ (more than a quarter million K-12 students who participate annually in LSC’s STEM programs), and 3,302,470 (the number of times our iconic Hoberman Sphere has opened and shut in 25 years).

Paul Hoffman

Paul was then joined on stage by his first guest: Brielle Milla, a young science lover whose excitement for STEM has landed her on The Ellen Show multiple times, including at the age of 3 to discuss the periodic table of elements with Ellen herself!

Brielle Milla

On stage, Brielle discussed a few of her favorite scientists, including Antoine Lavoisier, Isaac Newton, Michael Farady, and more.

Paul was so impressed by Brielle’s love of science that he invited her to become the second member of LSC’s Kid Science Advisor team. Our first LSC Kid Science Advisor – Jack Davis, who was chosen last year – joined Paul and Brielle on stage, where they announced a search for ten other young lovers of science to sign up as the official Class of 2019 LSC Kid Science Advisors.

Jack and Brielle

Next, Paul was joined by Steve Howe, one of our Gala corporate chairs. A US Chairman and Americas Managing Partner at EY, Howe discussed EY’s role as one of the founding sponsors of SciTech Scity.

“Innovation has long been EY’s hallmark...we believe that SciTech Scity will make New Jersey and the world a better place, and EY is proud to be a part of this,” Howe said.

Steve Howe and Paul Hoffman

Howe introduced the first Genius Awardee of the evening: Sara Seager, who is also known as the “Indiana Jones of astronomy.”

An astrophysicist at MIT, Seager is on a quest for the holy grail of planetary science: a second Earth. A pioneer in the field of exoplanetology, she invented the concept that forms the foundation of exoplanet atmosphere studies today.

"Very soon we’ll have the capability to find another Earth, and whether we find it or not, it's just up to nature and whether those planets are actually out there," Seager said.

Sara Seager and Paul Hoffman

Paul then introduced the second Genius Awardee, Vitalik Buterin.

Buterin is the Russian-Canadian programmer who created Ethereum, the world’s second-most valuable cryptocurrency network behind Bitcoin. In 2017, he was ranked number 10 on Fortune’s list of the most influential people in business under age 40.

Buterin could not be in person at the Gala, but accepted his award via video conferencing.

When explaining cryptocurrency to the audience, Buterin said: “A community of people can come together...and they can create and maintain a digital currency without relying on any existing infrastructure.”

Vitalik Buterin accepts his award on-screen

Next, guests enjoyed a special performance by Doug McKenzie and Ryan Oakes, also known as Digital Deception. This duo of magicians wowed the crowd with their technological tricks. In one trick, two guests became connected on a phone call simply by the touch of their fingers.

Digital Deception

After Digital Deception’s performance, Paul was joined on stage by Ralph Izzo, a Gala corporate chair and the chairman, president, and CEO of PSEG.

Izzo discussed his excitement over LSC’s new installation, the SURE House, a storm-resistant, energy-efficient beach house designed by Stevens Institute of Technology students that now has a permanent home at the Science Center:

“It’s an incredibly special project,” said Izzo.

Ralph Izzo

Izzo then introduced the third Genius Awardee, Laurie Santos.

A professor of psychology at Yale University and director of Yale’s Comparative Cognition Laboratory and Canine Cognition Center, Dr. Santos’ work focuses on what is unique about the human mind by comparing the cognitive abilities of humans, monkeys, and dogs.

Santos also studies the science of happiness. This year, she started teaching a course at Yale called “Psychology and the Good Life,” which is already breaking attendance records with one-quarter of Yale’s undergraduates – 1,182 students – enrolled.

“The good news is that happiness is something we can control...take the time for meditation, for sleep, for finding social connections. Talk to real humans in real time," Santos said.

Laurie Santos

After receiving the award, Santos invited a dog on stage named Gozer. With this furry friend, Santos demonstrated the type of psychology work she does at Yale’s Canine Cognition Center. It was definitely the cutest part of the evening!

Gozer the dog

Next, Mayor of Jersey City Steven Fulop arrived on stage and introduced Plastic Elastic 3.0. This team of eighth grade girls from PS 28 in Jersey City recently won the 11th Annual Lexus Eco Challenge for their project on developing environmentally friendly microfiber filter for washing machines.

Mayor Steven Fulop

On stage, the six students – Camila Nunez, Gabriella Martinez, Albania Cruz, Karys Sunga, Ariana Sanchez and Sharon Calderon – discussed their winning project.

Plastic Elastic 3.0

Finally, Paul was joined by friend of LSC John Urschel, the former offensive lineman on the Baltimore Ravens and current doctoral candidate in mathematics at MIT. Last year, he was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list of outstanding young scientists.

John Urschel and Paul Hoffman

On stage, Urschel discussed his current PhD work at MIT, before introducing the final Genius Awardee of the night: George Church.

A serial entrepreneur and genomics pioneer at Harvard University, Church launched his latest startup – Nebula Genomics – earlier this year, which plans to reduce genome cost to the patient from $999 today to $0 (or even pay them) and securely query the data via blockchain and other encryption tools so that participants retain permanent ownership and control over their DNA data.

"I think we should worry about every single new technology," Church said in a conversation on evolving tech, but acknowledged the importance of regulation and continuing to think outside the box.

George Church

From the presenters to the performers to the awardees, Genius Gala 7.0 was a tremendous success! See more photos from the program, red carpet, photo booth, and Dronie Station over on Flickr.

We wish to thank our entire Gala committee for making this event possible: Steve Howe, US Chairman and Americas Managing Partner, EY, and Ralph Izzo, Chairman, President, and CEO, PSEG. The co-chairs are: David Barry, President and CEO, Urby and Ironstate Development Company; Christopher S. Boerner, President and Head of International Markets, Bristol-Myers Squibb; Jennifer A. Chalsty, Director, Advisory Council, James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute, Johns Hopkins University; Kevin P. Conlin, Chairman, President, & CEO, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey; Michael DeMarco, CEO, Mack-Cali Realty Corporation; Alma DeMetropolis, Managing Director, JPMorgan Private Bank; Matthew D. Ellis, EVP and CFO, Verizon Communications; Robert C. Garrett, Co-CEO, Hackensack Meridian Health Network; David T. Gockel, President and CEO, Langan; Brian Gragnolati, President and CEO, Atlantic Health System; S. Joseph Hand, JD, SVP, Global HR and Corp. Services, Celgene Corporation; Robert J. Hariri, MD, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman, Human Longevity, Inc. and Chairman, Founder, and CEO, Celularity, Inc.; Barbara G. Koster, SVP and CIO, Prudential Financial; Carl R. Kuehner, III, Chairman and CEO, Building and Land Technology, Inc.; Bruce L. Levy, President and CEO, BMR Energy; Mitch Livingston, Esq., President & CEO, NJM Insurance Company; Barry H. Ostrowsky, President and CEO, RWJBarnabas Health; Laura Bilodeau Overdeck, Founder and President, Bedtime Math; John Overdeck, Co-Chairman and Co-Founder, Two Sigma; Chirag Patel, Co-CEO, Co-Founder, and Chairman, Amneal Pharmaceuticals; Carlos Rodriguez, President and CEO, ADP; Vijay Swarup, PhD, VP of R&D, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company; Gregory Tusar, CEO, Greywolf Consulting, LLC; Josh S. Weston, Honorary Chairman, ADP; Susan Keating; and Norman Worthington, Executive Chairman, The Star2Star Communications and Blueface Companies.

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