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Growing the Net: Old Friends & New Connections

This fall the Academy is working to build bridges and establish new connections between people who might otherwise never get together.

Published August 19, 2009

Reviewing our fall lineup, I was pleased to see how creative our staff and volunteer program committee members have again been at developing novel events that build bridges and establish new connections between people who might otherwise never get together. Some examples:

  • "Type 2 Diabetes Disparities in Ethnic Minorities" – Physicians, sociologists, policymakers, care-givers, and community leaders will discuss the disproportionate health burden that type 2 diabetes imposes on minorities.
  • "Soft Solar Energy Conversion Systems" – Academics — professors and students — as well as industry researchers and other professionals will cover an array of topics at the intersection of green science/clean tech and basic science.
  • "Entrepreneurship 101: Essentials for Innovators and the Young Technology Company" – Lawyers, scientists, physicians, inventors, and investors will receive a primer on legal issues for young technology companies.
  • "Collaborative Health Care for Older Adults" – Physicians, dentists, and scientists will discuss ways to improve care for the elderly.
  • "No Small Matter" – Science photographer Felice Frankel and nanotechnology pioneer George Whitesides will electrify an audience composed of one of our classic mixes – postdocs, senior scientists and lay public cognoscenti of science and art. Part of our Science & the City public outreach program.

Another spectacular example of the unique mix of people that your Academy brings together took place on June 9 at the annual President's Reception. Among those addressing a peerless audience were inventor Dean Kamen, who holds more than 440 patents on products ranging from the Segway transporter to the wearable infusion pump, and Academy Governor and Columbia University string theorist Brian Greene, who has inherited Carl Sagan’s mantle for public communication of science.

Brian used the occasion to kick off his novel, ambitious, and warmly received World Science Festival, outlining the eclectic range of programming – from talks by Nobel Prize winners to events featuring researchers, actors, artists, journalists, and authors – that has come to characterize this engaging annual exploration of science and culture.

Dean then introduced the audience to the amazing success he's had engaging young people in science and technology through his national robot-building contest, known as FIRST, which treats this technical challenge like a major sports competition. Teams from nearly 17,000 schools in 43 US cities participate, backed by 85,000 scientists and engineers who serve as volunteer mentors.

"Kids are so distracted by what appear to be more exciting alternative career options than science, technology, inventing, and innovating, which ... astounds me," Dean said. "Every major career opportunity they're going to have available to them in the next 10 or 20 years is going to require a fundamental appreciation and awareness of science and technology — even if they don't want to be a scientist or a technologist!" (See a video interview with Dean Kamen here.)

In the audience were people like the dynamic first-ever chief scientific officer of PepsiCo, Mehmood Khan, a former pharmaceutical research director hired by CEO Indra Nooyi to transform Pepsi into a science and health-based company. Other attendees included Seth Berkley, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative; visionary venture capitalist PC Chatterjee; philanthropist Jan Vilcek; media entrepreneur Bob Guccione Jr.; Pfizer Senior Vice President Toni Hoover; and John Sexton, NYU President, Academy Board chair, attorney, and scholar of religious history.

"We have entered the century that will be defined by science," John told us with his trademark eloquence. "It will be critical that we do all we can ... to push the awareness of science as deeply as possible into society."

The Academy, he added, has a unique capacity to serve that convening and catalyzing role, "and that's why I'm committed to it. That's the vision of it that I hope all of you see."

I hope so too. And I look forward to seeing both old and new friends as our new season of making special and lasting connections begins.