The Dream Scenario
The honorees of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists pay it forward through mentoring.
In a world that can seem dispiriting every time one opens the newspaper, nothing is more welcome than a small proof that people are generous of heart. So when we see a splendid instance of this in the world of science, we appreciate it all the more.
This issue is devoted to the inaugural recipients of the National Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists. In itself, this prize has inspired many—not least the 78 renowned senior scientists who devoted their truly precious time to nominate candidates or judge the nominees. When invited to serve, one after another remarked that there has never been a more urgent need to resource and provide emotional support to young scientists and to develop role models of success for children who either know nothing about the joys of research or, worse, wonder why they would devote decades of effort for a profession that can prevent independence deep into the 30s.
In my mind, the first goal—that of sending a message that young scientists have greater need of our support than do the lions of the community—could not have been more directly addressed than when Len Blavatnik joined me at the Nobel Foundation Ceremony and Gala in 2004 and asked why the world's most renowned scientists needed prizes. He expressed his interest in establishing a prize of equivalent prestige not for past accomplishments, but for the promise of the future.
After seven years of testing this hypothesis through the Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists, Len looked at our extraordinary cadre of winners and finalists—now Academy members, MacArthur Fellows and much more—and decided to go national with an unprecedented, unrestricted award of $250,000 for each of three winners.
This was not merely generous—it was visionary. In addition to furthering the work of some of the brightest young scientists working today, it shows the next generation that science can be both intellectually and monetarily rewarding.
The most inspiring outcome is yet to come, however. Since the award winners were announced, each of them, along with most of the finalists, have asked the Academy how they can give back!
One winner wants to establish a prize for gifted high school students in his native country. Many other honorees have asked if they can serve as online mentors and role models for children around the world through the Academy's new Global STEM Alliance.
Space constraints prevent me from describing the Global STEM Alliance in detail, but we will surely devote a future issue to it. Suffice it to say that the offer of young scientists to participate in this new program brings the Academy full circle back to its beginnings. The New York Academy of Sciences was founded 197 years ago by a group of doctors at the city's first medical school. They named it the Lyceum, and their goal was to create a place where everyone with an interest in science could exchange information and inspire one another—not just honored individuals, but businessmen, young people, anyone and everyone.
The Academy's third century begins in just two short years, and we have expanded our founding goal to a global scale in an extraordinary way. The scientific community has always prided itself on two characteristics—that politics couldn't hinder person-to-person interactions and that the greatest advances were often based on global collaboration. Now, imagine an era in which scientifically inclined children no longer need to feel isolated or beset by uninspired teachers but can go online, find friends the world over and establish links with young scientists offering to be their volunteer mentors.
This is what many of the Blavatnik scholars have offered to do—mentor and inspire children online. We are joining forces with the Royal Society, Sweden's Young Academy and many academic and corporate partners to build an unprecedented mentoring team that will catalyze cross-generational collaborations and forge lifelong friendships.
In future issues, you will hear more about the Global STEM Alliance. But if, at any time, you want to participate in it, partner with it or support it—financially or otherwise—please let us know. The family is growing.
President & CEO