From their living rooms and lab spaces, more than 100 people attended the 18th annual NIEHS Science Day, a special event that showcases the research of the institute’s trainees. Although the global COVID-19 pandemic forced the event online, the breadth and depth of science presented and rewarded was exceptional.
“Science Day is a very interactive event, and adapting to a virtual meeting format has been a challenge,” said Hans Luecke, Ph.D., NIEHS assistant scientific director and chair of the Science Day organizing committee.
The day’s events included 10 oral presentations by trainees who were nominated by Division of Intramural Research and Division of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) laboratory and branch chiefs. The longer presentations were complemented with 30 three-minute, prerecorded talks.
The 2020 fellow and mentor of the year were announced, as well as 2019 fellow and mentor of the year (see sidebar).
“This event originated in 2003 with the goal of recognizing and showcasing research and science conducted at NIEHS,” said NIEHS and NTP Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., during opening remarks, emphasizing the excellent work done by trainees at the institute. “I hope today will give you a flavor of the breadth of the outstanding science underway in the intramural programs, and, as with any science discussions, today’s events may even inspire future collaborations.”
Virtual format presents opportunities
The organizing committee opted to run the oral presentation sessions as a Zoom meeting to allow speakers and the audience to be visible to each other and ask questions directly during discussion time.
Typically, there are about 100 poster presentations during the annual event. Adapting to an online event, the planning committee replaced the poster session with a three-minute elevator pitch competition.
“Fortunately, NIEHS is a very forward-looking institution and even prior to the pandemic was developing virtual meeting resources,” Luecke said. “We are grateful for the flexibility and pioneering spirit of the NIEHSers who joined us in this experiment.”
Fellow of the Year
The NIEHS Fellow of the Year award recognizes the following six qualities.
- Passion and dedication to research.
- Demonstration of leadership excellence.
- Science communications aptitude.
- Mentoring ability.
Oswaldo “Ozzy” Lozoya, Ph.D., won this year’s award. A fellow in the Environmental Epigenomics and Disease Group, he was nominated by group leader Douglas Bell, Ph.D.
Bell noted that Lozoya’s application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program was so impressive that instead of awarding the $600,000 requested, the review committee awarded the project $1 million.
“In this, the strangest of years, he’s had remarkable accomplishments,” Bell said, noting that Lozoya authored several articles published in prominent journals in 2020. “And he’s the kind of guy who will answer questions and give you help, take time out to talk to a fellow or anybody else.”
Mentor of the Year
The Mentor of the Year is awarded to an NIEHS scientist who has made a major impact both scientifically and personally in training fellows and students. The award recognizes mentors who empower others and who provide unwavering support of mentees’ research ideas.
Douglas Bell, Ph.D., won the 2020 award. Michelle Campbell, who has worked as a biologist in Bell’s group for more than 17 years, gave an emotional speech while presenting the award. She praised Bell’s qualities as a scientific mentor, but also as compassionate human being who has been extraordinarily supportive of his staff during the pandemic.
“He is energetic in exploring and undertaking new approaches, and has played a role in bringing several new technologies to NIEHS over the years,” Campbell said. “Doug’s philosophy is to use all of our different specialized skills to work as a team.”
(Kelley Christensen is a contract copy editor and writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)