Dr. Robert Mongomery
Science & Technology

Liberty Science Center Honors 3 Innovators at 10th Annual Genius Gala

This past Monday, Jersey City-based Liberty Science Center (LSC) honored three people for overcoming enormous challenges and rising to the pinnacle of their respective professions in science, technology, and medicine. Hugh Herr, a double-amputee considered the “Leader of the Bionic Age,” Priyamvada Natarajan, a professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University and one of the foremost cosmic cartographers in the world, and Dr. Robert Montgomery, a pioneering transplant surgeon who, himself, is the recipient of a heart transplant, were the recipients of the “Genius Award,” the highest honor given by LSC.

Changing lives—and minds—is the raison d’etre of the three Genius awardees, explained Paul Hoffman, LSC president and CEO. “They are making the impossible possible; they are making dreams reality; they are shrinking the universe for us to understand and appreciate while also expanding the worlds of individuals, communities, and nations through their inspiring achievements,” Hoffman said.

The Genius Gala raised approximately $3 million. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the event which has raised over $22 million for LSC’s STEM education programs, helping to make world-class science learning accessible to students, teachers, and families, including those in high-needs communities.

The 2022 Genius Awards honored:

  • Hugh Herr lost both legs below the knees to frostbite after a teenage mountaineering accident. He has devoted his working life to restoring mobility to the physically challenged. As the Co-Director of the Center for Extreme Bionics at the MIT Media Lab, he is a pioneer in “biomechatronics,” technology that combines human physiology and electromechanical devices. His research group is building the next generation of smart, microprocessor-laden prosthetic knees, legs, and ankles.
  • Priyamvada Natarajan is professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University, and one of the foremost cosmic cartographers in the world. She specializes in mapping the unseen universe – everything from dark matter and dark energy to black holes. Her work, which utilizes the new ultrapowerful James Webb Space Telescope, was presented in an immersive, visually stunning show in the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere during the event.
  • Robert Montgomery, MD, DPhil, chairman and professor of surgery at NYU Langone Health and Director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute, is a practicing transplant surgeon who himself is the recipient of a heart transplant. He is a pioneer of both the laparoscopic procedure for live kidney donation and the practice of “domino-paired” kidney swaps—group donations that allow incompatible kidney transplant patients to receive the kidneys they need. He is responsible for over 1,000 living donor kidney transplants each year. In 2010, he set the Guinness World Record for the most kidney transplants performed in a single day! He made medical history again in September 2021 when he performed the first successful pig-to-human kidney transplant using a pig that had been genetically modified so that the kidney would not be immediately rejected. (The pig kidney came from a subsidiary of United Therapeutics, a biotech company founded by Martine Rothblatt, a 2019 Genius Award winner who also attended this year’s event).

At the gala, LSC also paid tribute to Abhimanyu Mishra as a “Special Honoree.” Mishra made history on June 30, 2021, when he became the youngest chess Grandmaster ever at the age of 12 years, four months, and 25 days. A native of Englishtown, NJ, Mishra learned the rules of chess before he turned three and began playing in tournaments at five years old. In 2015, six-year-old Mishra faced the No. 2 player in the world, Fabiano Caruana, the visiting Grandmaster-In-Residence at Liberty Science Center, which “changed his life,” his father said.

During the gala program, Mishra played Speed Chess against another special honoree, Jessica Hyatt, a 16-year-old from Brooklyn who is aiming to become the first female African-American chess master in history. With an official chess rating of 2095, Hyatt, who attends Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in Manhattan, is just 105 points shy of reaching her goal. Hyatt beat Mishra to become the new LSC Speed Chess Champion.

LSC presented its second Strides in STEM Award to YouTube science and technology superstar Marques Brownlee. A former teen volunteer at the Center, he is known professionally as MKBHD. As of April 2022, he has over 15 million subscribers and nearly 3 billion total video views on YouTube. Beyond that, he hosts the popular podcast Waveform. He has been called “the best technology reviewer on the planet right now” by Vic Gundotra, a former Senior Vice President of Google.

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