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Q&A with Academy Board Member Peter Thorén

Peter Thorén is Executive Vice President of Access Industries and a member of the Board of Governors for The New York Academy of Sciences. With an extensive background in law and business, he brings a valuable perspective to the Board. We interviewed him to learn more about his background, what he’s learned from working with scientists, and why he chose to get involved with the Academy.

*some quotes have been edited for length and clarity

What does being a member of the Board of the Academy mean to you?

First and foremost, I’m extremely proud to be a member of the Board for The New York Academy of Sciences. I am not a scientist by training, but I have great respect and admiration for what talented scientists can do. The brilliance of science is producing solutions to problems and making the world better. Being a Board member for the Academy enables me to assist in that process in any way I can. This is both a privilege and an honor, and I appreciate the opportunity.

How did you first become interested in the Academy’s work?

I first became involved around 2004, when the Academy was still located up on East 63rd Street, on the Upper East Side, and Ellis Rubinstein was the President. At that time, the Academy was going through a bit of a financial issue and was considering selling their building.

Access Industries ended up buying the Academy building and, through the process of negotiating the deal, we got to know Ellis and the Academy well. Ellis, in turn, got to know Len Blavatnik, the Founder of Access Industries. In 2005, Ellis, Len, and I attended the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm with our wives. From there, the relationship with the Academy and the growth of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists took off. So that’s the genesis of my relationship with the Academy and I have been on the Board ever since. I marvel at the Academy’s growth and expansion over that time.

How does your personal and professional background inform your commitment to the Academy?

I’m a lawyer and a businessman by training and it’s what I’ve done for the last 45 years. Over the years, I’ve learned that the more interested you are in the world around you, the more creative you become, the more innovative you are in your thought process and the more successful you are in your career and life in general. This process applies to the way the Academy, and the many talented individuals we associate with at the Academy, think. It defines how they look at problems and identify solutions to seemingly insurmountable issues. This creative approach benefits everyone but particularly those of us who are on the periphery of science and who benefit from what is being done within the Academy and other scientific institutions.

Which is the one Academy program or initiative that excites you the most. And why?

Well, there are many wonderful initiatives and programs at the Academy. But clearly, the one nearest to my heart, given the fact that I was there from the beginning in 2007 and have watched it grow over the years, is the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists. We started with the regional awards for postdocs in the tri-state area, then that grew into the national award for faculty-ranked scientists and engineers throughout the entire United States. Then, in 2017, we expanded the awards further to honor faculty-ranked researchers in Israel and the United Kingdom.

By the end of 2024, we’ll have recognized 470 young scientists from more than 35 different scientific and engineering disciplines and have provided over $17 million in unrestricted awards. Being able to support young scientists early in their career, and to give them the confidence, the recognition, and an extra push forward to do even greater things, is wonderful. Of all the different things I do on a philanthropic side as head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, being part of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists is the most fun, the most interesting, and the most rewarding. I’m proud and honored to work alongside Len Blavatnik and the talented and enthusiastic people at the Academy who make this possible.


Academy Communications Department
This article was written by a member of the Academy Communications team.