On May 2, 2022, Liberty Science Center held a full house for Genius Gala 10, our milestone celebration of the Genius Awards.
This annual star-studded event honors pioneers in science, technology, and innovation. This year, we honored bionics trailblazer Hugh Herr, cosmic cartographer Priyamvada Natarajan, and organ transplant pioneer Robert Montgomery.
In addition, the Strides in STEM Award was presented to consumer technology influencer Marques Brownlee, a former LSC teen volunteer. We also celebrated Special Honorees Abhimanyu Mishra, history’s youngest chess grandmaster, and Jessica Hyatt, who’s on the verge of becoming the first African American woman chess master.
During cocktail hour, attendees walked the red carpet, met 1,000 fluttering monarchs and painted ladies in the Butterfly House, soared through space in the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, watched magic tricks with David Blaine, and got dronies taken at the Dronie Station.
The program began with remarks from David Barry and Alma DeMetropolis. Barry is Co-Chair of LSC’s Board of Trustees and the President and CEO of Urby. DeMetropolis is a Vice Chair of LSC’s Board and Managing Director and Market Manager at JP Morgan Private Bank.
Barry and DeMetropolis noted that the Gala was held in person for the first time in two years – while also taking a moment to acknowledge all that LSC has accomplished since the pandemic. For example, nearly one million people watched LSC’s virtual programming. And since reopening Labor Day Weekend 2020, LSC has safely hosted more than 350,000 visitors!
Barry and DeMetropolis then introduced LSC President and CEO Paul Hoffman. This was a special night for Hoffman, celebrating ten years at the Science Center. Looking back at his tenure, Hoffman called out some pretty impressive numbers – like how LSC has had 5,405,991 visitors since 2013, and how 2,538 people have volunteered at LSC over the last decade, putting in a collective 400,000 hours.
After reflecting on LSC’s amazing accomplishments over ten years, Hoffman was excited to look toward the future.
“LSC grew at a time when many other institutions were dark,” said Hoffman, calling out some of our newest exhibitions – like “Wobbly World,” our new young learner space, “Dino Dig Adventure,” our outdoor dig site containing 60 tons of sand, and “Making Mammoths,” home to George, LSC’s very own lifelike woolly mammoth.
Hoffman also discussed LSC’s upcoming 30-acre innovation campus, SciTech Scity, and presented designs for the Liberty Science Center High School. The high school – which will welcome its first class in September 2025 – will be a world-class public magnet STEM academy built by the Hudson County Improvement Authority and operated by the Hudson County Schools of Technology.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us the importance of science,” said Hoffman. “The life-saving COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time because of science. May Liberty Science Center High School graduate students from Jersey City and Hudson County who ward off future pandemics, discover new planets, and make Earth more sustainable.”
Next, Hoffman was joined by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
“Each year I am struck and amazed by the remarkable individuals who are honored at this event,” said Fulop.
Fulop introduced our first Genius Award winner, bionics trailblazer Hugh Herr.
Reflecting on his life and career, Herr thanked his students and family for all that he has achieved, and discussed the work he is currently doing.
“What we want to do is advance the science and technology of human augmentation,” Herr said in his speech. “We want to build bionic limbs that are so integrated into human physiology that they become part of human identity.”
Next, Sheri Bronstein – Bank of America’s Chief Human Resources Officer and a Vice Chair of LSC’s Board of Trustees – took the stage.
Bronstein presented the Strides in STEM Award, which is “given to an individual who is not a professional scientist and does an exemplary job of raising public awareness of science or technology,” Bronstein explained.
This year, the award was presented to consumer technology influencer Marques Brownlee. Although Brownlee could not attend the Gala this evening, he came to LSC one week earlier to accept his award and chat with Hoffman in a video interview.
“I remember the quieter days, just walking around, just reading everything, all the exhibits, all the facts,” Brownlee said, looking back at his days as an LSC volunteer. “I feel like that was the summer I learned a lot.”
Before concluding the first act, Ralph Izzo, Chairman, President and CEO of PSEG came on stage to thank some of the public servants in the room.
The second act of the evening began with a truly magical performance! LSC’s Magician-in-Residence David Blaine, alongside fellow magician Asi Wind, performed dazzling card tricks on the stage.
“Whenever I want to learn a new trick, I basically try it out here,” Blaine said, referring to his years-long history performing at the Science Center.
LSC’s Vice President of STEM Education, Ivory Williams, presented the next Genius Award to cosmic cartographer Priyamvada Natarajan.
“For those of you who are not familiar with Priya’s work, prepare to be dazzled!” said Williams.
In her speech, Natarajan acknowledged the value of institutions such as LSC, and how grateful she is for mentors that inspired a love of science throughout her life.
“We live in a world where science seems to be at siege," said Natarajan. "I really hope that places like Liberty Science Center can reorient the world where it really needs to be, where every child and grown-up are thrilled to discover the simple joy of figuring things out for yourself."
Next, Gala attendees enjoyed a performance by the incredible musician Charles Yang – who attended LSC’s first Genius Gala on the night he graduated from Juilliard! – and his brilliant collaborator Peter Dugan.
After the performance, LSC trustee Gregory Tusar took the stage.
Tusar introduced one of our Special Honorees Abhimanyu Mishra, of Englishtown, NJ. On June 30, 2021, Mishra became the world’s youngest grandmaster at the age of 12 years, 4 months, and 25 days.
Mishra has an incredible history with LSC, having previously played against LSC’s Visiting Grandmaster in Residence Fabiano Caruana at an LSC event.
Guests enjoyed a speed chess match between Mishra and fellow Special Honoree Jessica Hyatt, a high school student at Success Academy in Manhattan who has her sights set on becoming the first African American woman to achieve the title of Chess Master. She plays chess 5 to 7 hours a day and has already earned a $40,000 college scholarship because of her mastery of the 64 squares.
The match was narrated by Jonathan Corbblah, noted park chess hustler, gamer, and contestant on 13 different TV game shows.
Both contestants played well, but ultimately Hyatt bested Mishra to take the night's LSC Speed Chess Champion title!
After the match, Dr. Richard Hodosh, LSC and SciTech Scity Trustee and former director of the Atlantic Brain and Spine Institute, took the stage.
Hodosh presented the final Genius Award of the night to organ transplant pioneer Dr. Robert Montgomery.
“No one should have to get as sick as I was, and to go through what I had to go through, in order to qualify to get a heart transplant,” said Montgomery during his powerful speech.
Following the program, guests headed back to PSE&G Court to enjoy dessert and an afterparty.
LSC’s 10th Annual Genius Gala was another incredible night! Click here to see more photos from the program, cocktail reception, red carpet, and Dronie Station.
We wish to thank our entire Gala committee for making this event possible: Gary D. St. Hilaire, President and CEO, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey; Jennifer A. Chalsty, Director, Advisory Council, James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute, John Hopkins University; Ralph Izzo, Chairman, President and CEO, PSEG; Josh S. Weston, Honorary Chairman, ADP; David Barry, President and CEO, Urby; Sheri B. Bronstein, Chief Human Resources Officer, Bank of America; The Cove JC – An Unrivaled Ecosystem for Discovery; Alma DeMetropolis, Managing Director; Market Manager, J.P. Morgan Private Bank; Matthew D. Ellis, EVP and CFO, Verizon Communications; Richard M. Hodosh, MD, Former Medical Director, Atlantic Brain and Spine Institute; Steve and Kate Howe, Retired Chairman, EY; Bruce L. Levy, President and CEO, BMR Energy; Jeffrey M. Mandler, Co-Owner and CEO, Evolve Med Spa; Co-Founder and Past CEO, CarePoint Health; Laura Overdeck, Founder, Bedtime Math; Chirag Patel, Co-CEO and President, Amneal Pharmaceuticals; Al Reba, VP, Worldwide Cardiovascular, Bristol Myers Squibb; Carlos Rodriguez, CEO, ADP; Janet Truncale, Vice Chair and Regional Managing Partner, Americas Financial Services Organization, EY; Gregory Tusar, Head of Institutional Product, Coinbase; and Susan Keating and Norman Worthington III, Chairman, Sangoma Technologies Corporation.