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|F R O M T H E D E P U T Y D I R E C T O R F O R I N T R A M U R A L R E S E A R C H : G U E S T E D I T O R I A L|
The Twelfth Annual NIH Research Festival arriveswith all due pomp and circumstanceon October 69. As chairman of this year's festival, I have the opportunity to continue what has become a wonderfully satisfying and still evolving tradition. However, this Research Festival will have a bittersweet flavor for me personally, as I shall be leaving NIH immediately after the festival to become senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. After 31 years at NIH, I cannot imagine a better way to say hail and farewell to this great institution than by celebrating its intramural science.
The Research Festival has changed over the years, in both style and content. My good friend Abner Notkins, then NIDR scientific director, proposed the idea to the Board of Scientific Directors in 1986. Abner now recalls that back then, "We had 15 very separate, selfcontained, and often isolated institutes. More than a little of the very good work going on in the different institutes was similar or even overlapping, especially at the basic level, but investigators often had no sense of this common ground because scientists in the various institutes simply didn't have much contact with one another." In addition, Notkins felt that the breadth and depth of excellent intramural science offered the critical mass needed for a rich and robust scientific meetinga true celebration of our work. At least some of Notkins' colleagues were dubious about the likely success of such a meeting, or even territorial about their science, and many felt that just the usual listing of lab and branch seminars on the Yellow Sheet was sufficient for scientific exchange. Fortunately, Ed Rall, then the deputy director for intramural research, thought that the festival idea was worth a try.
The first year, Abner organized a oneday festival and decided to turn the usual protocol for scientific meetings on its ear. Instead of having the "superstars" present the plenary symposia, and postdocs their posters, he asked Rall to invite NIH's most prominent senior scientists to present the posters. Thus, it was midcareer and even younger scientists who headlined the morning program, with plenary symposia on topics that at the time were at the cutting edge: Prospects in Gene Therapy and Oncogenes and Growth Factors. Notkins recalls one Nobel laureate struggling to assemble his postersomething he'd never done before or, at least, not for decades! The festival's afternoon featured 20 workshops, with a gala picnic concluding "Research Day" in the evening. Hardly the typical federal event!
I chaired the second NIH Research Festival. Still just one day, this one included plenary symposia on Signal Transduction, Gene Structure and Expression, and the Molecular and Cellular Biology of the Nervous System. Again, we made time for a picnic and even a jazz concert in the evening. Getting from one event to the next proved daunting, given that the workshops were so widely scattered across the campus.
In 1990, the festival joined forces with the Technical Sales Association (an equipment vendors' trade organization), which mounted a display of the latest scientific equipment in the tent that had earlier housed the posters. (The association's generous role in the festival was the brainchild of Jim Bahre, for many years a manufacturer's representative on this campus and so inextricably a part of our culture that he eventually received an NIH Director's Award!) Successive festivals followed this model more or less intact through 1994. In 1995, all festival events were consolidated in the new Natcher Building, making it easy to move between talks and workshops but forcing a cutback in the number of workshops and postersalthough we were still offered an amount and diversity of science that one could barely metabolize. That year also, we began to involve NIH's growing library of "special interest groups" in festival organizing. In 1996, to celebrate the Tenth Research Festival, we revived Abner Notkins' notion of inviting NIH's most senior scientistsincluding several institute and scientific directorsto present posters. Despite the vast resources available to this august group, their posterswhile scintillating, perhaps, scientificallytended to lack the aesthetic of their younger but more Macproficient colleagues. That year, too, after years of tolerating the September rains, and with a sciencebased consult (Poor Richard's Almanac), we moved the festival to early October; and last year, obeying Poor Richard and remembering not to schedule the festival on Yom Kippur, we were rewarded by sunshine. Last year saw the birth of a Postdoctoral Job Fair, run by the Office of Education, bringing together job-hunting postdocs and representatives of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
I have again
finetuned the formula for this year's festival (the program is available
>): a more
leisurely threeday format, a revival of picnics and concerts, a tighter
focus of the workshops (now called "minisymposia") to cuttingedge
topics, and morning plenaries that should have very wide appeal. The now
allday Job Fair is slated for Tuesday, October 6. The festival itself
begins Wednesday with a plenary symposium on The Origins of Life,
featuring NIH Director Harold Varmus
and NASA Director Dan Goldin. I believe this will be one of the most exciting
scientific sessions ever held at our festivals ( talks on astrobiology,
planetary origins and prebiotic life, and the earliest events both in
prokaryotic and eukaryotic evolution).
The Thursday plenary symposium
offers a nontraditional view of translational research: bedsidetobench,
rather than the more customary benchtobedside. The last morning symposium
is devoted to a subject now pursued aggressively in virtually every institute:
Minisymposia on crosscutting
topics of interest to both basic and clinical researchers fill the mornings
and poster sessions the afternoons. The latest lab equipment is on display
throughout Thursday and Friday. The challenge will be to choose from the
engaging menu of competing sessions, including, for example, "Cell
Biology of the Nucleus" (chaired by Mary
Dasso and John Hanover), "Molecular,
Cellular, and Tissue Imaging" (Peter
Basser and Carolyn Smith), "HIV
Biology: Bridging the Gap Between In Vitro and In Vivo"
(Edward Berger and Leonid
Margolis), and "The Molecular and Cellular Biology of Diabetes
Mellitus" (Abner Notkins and Phillip
The Thursday plenary symposium offers a nontraditional view of translational research: bedsidetobench, rather than the more customary benchtobedside. The last morning symposium is devoted to a subject now pursued aggressively in virtually every institute: Apoptosis.
Minisymposia on crosscutting topics of interest to both basic and clinical researchers fill the mornings and poster sessions the afternoons. The latest lab equipment is on display throughout Thursday and Friday. The challenge will be to choose from the engaging menu of competing sessions, including, for example, "Cell Biology of the Nucleus" (chaired by Mary Dasso and John Hanover), "Molecular, Cellular, and Tissue Imaging" (Peter Basser and Carolyn Smith), "HIV Biology: Bridging the Gap Between In Vitro and In Vivo" (Edward Berger and Leonid Margolis), and "The Molecular and Cellular Biology of Diabetes Mellitus" (Abner Notkins and Phillip Gorden).
I hope you enjoy this thoroughly groaning board, filled with the fruits of our best basic and clinical science. For myself, I know that the delight I shall take in this festival will mirror the joy of my three decades at this magnificent institution. I may be moving on, but my deep affection and respect for my many NIH colleagues will endure. Despite the frustrations that we may feel (e.g., campus space so supersaturated that we may all soon crystallize and seemingly limitless government forms to complete), surely there has not in history been a better place than this one in which to do research"it's as good as it gets"and in the Twelfth Annual NIH Research Festival, we'll know this still again.
Arthur S. Levine, Scientific Director, NICHD