Uma Valeti, Katalin Karikó, Paul Hoffman, John Mather
Science & Technology

Liberty Science Center’s 11th Genius Gala Honors 3 Science Luminaries

The science world came together with the world of philanthropy in Jersey City last night at Liberty Science Center’s 11th Annual Genius Gala, where John C. Mather, Katalin Karikó and Dr. Uma Valeti received the Genius Award, the LSC’s highest honor, for their world-changing scientific discoveries at the event which also celebrated the Center’s 30th anniversary. Richard Branson, a 2013 Genius Honoree; Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi, and cosmic cartographer and 2022 Genius Honoree Priyamvada Natarjan conferred the “Genius” distinction upon the recipients in front of a crowd of more than 500 business, civic, and philanthropic leaders from across New Jersey, the region, country and the world.

LSC raised $2.5 million at the event. Since its inception, the Genius Gala has raised nearly $25 million to benefit LSC’s STEM education programs, helping to make world-class science learning accessible to students, teachers, and families, including those in high-needs communities.

“Good art and good design, like good science, have the power to lift the human spirit and make us look at the world in a different way,” said LSC President and CEO Paul Hoffman. “LSC’s goal is to inspire, to take our guests out of their daily routines and show them something new, cool, extraordinary and awe-inspiring.”

“Tonight we’re celebrating three creative minds, John Mather, Katalin Karikó, and Uma Valeti. All three honorees are making incredible strides in their respective fields,” said Richard Branson, in a video played at the gala.

In all their remarks, the honorees praised LSC for educating young people, calling them the innovators of the future.

“I am honored to receive this award, and it is a privilege to belong with all of the people who have received this award prior to me, including my fellow awardees John Mather and Uma Valeti,” said Katalin Karikó, the scientist behind the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. “… I am grateful to all of those people who tried to make my life miserable, because they made me work harder and that helped me get to this point today.”

“My advice to school teachers is to make learning with the next generation exciting by focusing on participation. Scientists don’t learn everything out of books; we pick up rocks, turn them over, and see what’s there,” said John Mather, the senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope. “We say ‘I don’t understand that, let’s figure this out.’ Learning what’s in a book and passing a test is exactly the opposite of what scientists do for a living. All young people have the opportunity to discover, innovate, and create for themselves, inspiring all generations.”

More about the 2023 Genius Awardees:

  • John C. Mather, the senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, is an astrophysicist and cosmologist at NASA and has been named among the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME Magazine. His work on the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite with George Smoot, which confirmed the Big Bang theory, earned him the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics. For the past 25 years, Mather has led the science team for the James Webb Space Telescope, a world-changing tool more powerful than any telescope in existence which, through its released photos, has already revealed new insights into the celestial world.
  • mRNA research seemingly is in Katalin Karikó’s genes as she became a scientist in her native Hungary despite having never met one. After emigrating to Philadelphia in 1985, she aimed to continue her work at various academic institutions, but encountered repeated setbacks and funding issues. Her resolve remained intact even as colleagues considered her work unorthodox and speculative. Nevertheless, she persisted and spent countless hours synthesizing therapeutic mRNA. Finally, her decades of research paid off when she and her colleague co-discovered a technique that successfully introduced synthetic mRNA into humans where it provided the correct messaging for the cells to create necessary proteins to fight specific maladies. This profound breakthrough led to a collaboration with BioNTech to develop a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine that would save countless millions from suffering. Karikó was honored with the prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Princess of Asturias Award, and the Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Biotechnology.
  • Dr. Uma Valeti is the CEO and co-founder of Upside Foods, the world’s first cultivated-meat company producing meat directly from animal cells and the first and only company to receive the Food and Drug Administration’s blessing as safe to eat. Formerly a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic and a professor at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Valeti recognized the therapeutic power and potential of stem-cell technology and has utilized that technology to pioneer the world’s first chicken, duck, and beef grown directly from animal cells. As the chief visionary at Upside Foods, his mission is to feed the global population with delicious meat that’s also affordable and sustainable. Dr. Valeti was previously the president of the Twin Cities Heart Association and has served in leadership roles at the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, and co-founded or invested in several medical device and food tech startups.

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