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When Two Leaders Come Together, A Partnership Is Born

By Melanie Brickman Borchard, Ph.D., M.Sc., NYAS Staff 

Glenda Greenwald

Glenda Greenwald President and Founder, Aspen Brain Institute

The New York Academy of Sciences and Aspen Brain Institute celebrate a decade of collaboration.

Bringing together some of the world’s greatest thinkers is no small accomplishment. But a decade ago, a seemingly chance meeting in Aspen led to a partnership that would bring some of the world’s leading figures from science, politics and entertainment to landmark events in the field of neuroscience, early childhood development and STEM education. Such innovators as Edward Boyden (MIT), George Church (Harvard), Christof Koch (Allen Institute for Brain Science), Philip Low (NeuroVigil), Helen Mayberg (Emory University), Andrew Schwartz (University of Pittsburgh), Nora Volkow (NIH) as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, and iconic film star Goldie Hawn, Founder, The Goldie Hawn Foundation, have all been guest speakers at programs developed by the New York Academy of Sciences and the Aspen Brain Institute.

The partnership began when President Emeritus of the New York Academy of Sciences, Mr. Ellis Rubinstein, attended a dinner hosted by Aspen Brain Institute Founder and President, Glenda Greenwald at her Aspen home in the spring of 2009. They quickly discovered their mutual passion for bringing scientific knowledge to the wider community, so when Mrs. Greenwald asked President Rubinstein if he would like to partner on a global brain research conference, he promptly said yes and a partnership was born. Since that meeting the New York Academy of Sciences and Aspen Brain Institute have brought together the most innovative, important and inspiring individuals together to discuss topics on the cutting edge of science.

“The seeds were planted between the Aspen Brain Institute (ABI) and the New York Academy of Sciences at that dinner,” said Glenda Greenwald, “and the partnership is still very much blossoming and bearing fruit.”

In the years that followed, the two organizations developed scores of scientific symposia, public programs, podcasts, and e-Briefing multimedia reports that highlighted the most important advancements in science. “Thanks to Glenda Greenwald’s personal participation as well as the generous support of the Aspen Brain Institute, we jointly convened a number of significant conferences that engaged some of the greatest innovators in science today,” said Ellis Rubinstein.

These joint symposia have focused on such notable topics as:

  • Cracking the Neural Code: Exploring how the activity of individual neurons and neuronal circuits gives rise to higher order cognition and behavior, with talks on areas like mapping neural networks;
  • Accelerating Translational Neurotechnology: Exploring innovative scientific, clinical, and organizational models for advancing the translation of neuroscience research into technologies for neurological and psychiatric disease;
  • Shaping the Developing Brain: Exploring the latest discoveries from cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology regarding typical and atypical development of human learning and memory, emotion, and social behavior in early life; and
  • The Enhanced Human — Risks and Opportunities: Exploring existing and emerging enhancement technologies, with a focus on gene editing and artificial intelligence as examples of technologies with broad capabilities and ethical concerns.

“These conferences and public programs were not only scientifically outstanding, but also often awe-inspiring,” Rubinstein commented. “For me, the most moving moment was in the Bionic Skeletons and Beyond program. Watching Amanda Boxtel — a long-time paraplegic — walk across the stage thanks to a wearable bionic exoskeleton, was truly remarkable.”

In 2017 the ABI began supporting the Academy’s Global STEM Alliance (GSA), a coalition of more than 250 organizations united in their commitment to increase the number and diversity of students in the STEM pipeline. For two years, the ABI sponsored a Social Impact Challenge for young, high-achieving STEM students from around the world. “I fell in love with the GSA concept of a global, online peer network of high school students collaborating on solving world problems,” said Greenwald. “The global aspect, the STEM aspect, and the brilliant innovation of the kids were all phenomenal.”

“In working with the New York Academy of Sciences, I have appreciated their wide open vision — the ability of the organization to stay topical and timely so that we could highlight the most current and exciting research, as well as bring in the highest level scientists at our conferences,” said Greenwald. Both organizations anticipate that their decade-long partnership will extend well into the future, with many more years of progressive and collaborative programs to come.

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