Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Country fairs and Nobel Prize winners

How is that for an unusual blog entry title?! 

Yesterday started with the family headed to the annual school country fair and soccer games.  After about 10 inches of rain on Thursday and Friday, we were blessed with a gorgeous blue sky day, pleasant temperatures, migrating raptors, and the smells of autumn.  The abundance of the farmers' fields was quite evident with baskets of peppers, squash, cabbages, corn, cucumbers, apples, freshly made honey, etc. all around. The crips breezes carried the wonderful smells of international foods being prepared and served and the distance fiddle music being played by the grade school Sukuki students.  

The day started with a 5K run/walk to raise money for the campus beautification fund (planting more trees).  Families chatted about their recent activities during the soccer game and a father from the opposing team said how much he liked to come to Moravian's events since the environment was so welcoming and the games played fair and clean.  What a compliment!

Yes indeed, we are so blessed with the riches of life.  I wonder if other families were feeling this way too.

Last night, we had a reception and dinner for the visiting speaker - Dr. Peter Agre, Director of the John Hopkins Malaria Research Institute and co-winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of aquaporins (critical channels in cell membranes for the movement of water). 

Dr. Agre grew up on a farm in Minnesota.  As a result of resources poured into science in the age of Sputnik, his father—a college chemistry professor at St. Olaf college—ended up in California for a year-long sabbatical after acquiring a significant grant.  So young Peter was surrounded by internationally renowned scientists and had the opportunity to witness first-hand Linus Pauling (another Nobel Prize winning chemist) in his efforts to protest nuclear testing.  This environment nurtured his life-long interest in both science and using science as an avenue to make a difference.  After college at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota and spending time traveling through Asia, he went to John Hopkins Medical School but retained his interest in biomedical research.  He has studied cholera, malaria, blood-group antigens (like the Rh factor) and a number of other diseases.  (You can learn more about him at http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2003/agre-autobio.html and http://news.aaas.org/2009/0218post-6.shtml).
He spoke less about his work linking science and politics and his role as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but in conversations after the formal talk we heard much more about his thoughts on science diplomacy.

During his talk he provided a number of important messages that struck me as relevant to some of the themes I am exploring through this blog:

1.  The importance of the gifts of education and having parents inspire a sense of wonder in their children.  I personally believe that without literacy, opportunities for education, and a strong sense of curiosity about (and respect for) nature and the cultures around us, it will be difficult to achieve a new prosperity.
2.  Regardless of how you arrive at a particular juncture in life, what is important is what you do with the opportunity.  We are given gifts and thus, have a responsibility to use them wisely and work to make the world a better place.
3.  Science can and should be a path to world peace.  (The American Association for the Advancement of Science has a Center for Science Diplomacy http://diplomacy.aaas.org/ that has as its goal to use “science and scientific cooperation to promote international understanding and prosperity”!)
4.  Scientists have a responsibility to both communicate with the public to better inform them about the importance of science in our lives and to find ways to put science to work improving the quality of life for people around the world.

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