On Nov. 1, dignitaries, invited guests, retirees, former directors, staff, and others gathered on campus for a long-awaited event. Before an overflow crowd, prominent public figures celebrated the institute’s golden anniversary and highlighted the positive impact NIEHS has had on the world over the past 50 years.
NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., kicked off the event. “I see this as an opportunity to highlight the public health improvements that are the direct result of environmental health science and our research,” she said. “We want our work to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Following her remarks, a video was shown that told the story of the institute’s rich history in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The presentation highlighted the people and science advances that made NIEHS what it is today.
“I’ve been with NIH for about 10 years,” said Molly Puente, Ph.D., from the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT). “This gives me much more perspective on where this institute has been and where we’re going.”
Distinguished speakers laud NIEHS
Former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt, J.D., recounted the role played by his predecessor, Terry Sanford, J.D., in bringing NIEHS to North Carolina. Hunt offered praise for the institute’s work. “It is vital to the future of mankind,” said Hunt. “You’ve had a great 50 years, and we’ve got to work on making the next 50 even better.”
Abee Boyles, Ph.D., from NTP, enjoyed the talk by Hunt. “I’m a North Carolina native, and he was my governor for 16 years,” she said. “I’d forgotten what a great speaker he is and how inspiring his message was about education and children’s health.”
Following Hunt, Ira Flatow, executive producer and host of “Science Friday,” a radio program that brings lively, informative discussion on science, technology, health, space, and the environment to people worldwide, gave a riveting presentation on how science reaches the public.
Flatow encouraged scientists to be eager to tell their stories. “You have to get past the myth that people don’t love science,” Flatow said. “They will inhale as much science as you can give them — if you know how.”
Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., from DERT, said she enjoyed listening to Flatow. “He gave some great examples of science in the public domain,” she said.
Champions of Environmental Science Research
The centerpiece of the celebration was the presentation of 12 Champion of Environmental Science Research awards by Carol Folt, Ph.D., chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Your groundbreaking work has quite literally made the world a safer place,” she said. “No one has met this challenge more than the 12 people we are honoring today. To learn more about the award recipients, see the story in last month’s issue.
The public factor
Following the awards presentation, Joe Graedon and Terry Graedon, Ph.D., the husband and wife team behind “The People’s Pharmacy,” drove home the importance of mainstreaming science. “What you do here really affects people’s lives,” said Joe Graedon. “People care about the environment and how it affects their health,” Terry Graedon added.
Emphasizing the theme of public outreach, congressman David Price, Ph.D., who represents North Carolina’s Fourth District, which includes NIEHS, said that it can be difficult sometimes to convince other members of Congress about the importance of science, but that science research forms the bedrock of U.S. leadership in world affairs.
“Our greatest strength for many decades has been our public/private research enterprise,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder to represent this institution and the people who work here.”
Following a video salute from actress Jessica Alba and Christopher Gavigan, founders of The Honest Company who helped support the event, Birnbaum expressed her appreciation to everyone who had helped make the day — and the past 50 years — so special. “Everyone here in this room, all my NIEHS family, have made such a difference for the world,” Birnbaum said. “And I want to thank you all.”
(John Yewell is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)