“Every one of us has to be accountable.”
The urgency of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei’s appeal reflected the intense expressions of the students in the NIST Theatre. As the third and final speaker in the 5th ASEAN event series Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace, Dr. ElBaradei’s words served as an appropriate call to action to tie together the earlier visits by Professors Brian Schmidt and Bruce Beutler. For several years NIST has welcomed luminaries in partnership with the International Peace Foundation, including well-recognized figures such as Jackie Chan and Jesse Jackson. These individuals have not only inspired our community, but also provided a reminder of our shared responsibility for making the world a more equitable and peaceful home for all.
This year’s first speaker, 2011 Nobel Laureate for Physics Brian Schmidt, appropriately began the series with a grand look at our understanding of the cosmos. Building on his groundbreaking work that revealed evidence for an accelerating universe, Professor Schmidt spoke of science as “a bridge” that can bring humanity together. Despite the vastness of the topic, his core message was refreshingly personal and modest as he spoke of his work and the open future that our students faced, and he urged them to follow their own passions: “Each of you will have that opportunity.”
Narrowing the scope from the vast cosmos to our planet and its tumultuous history, 2011 Nobel Laureate for Medicine Bruce Beutler described the impact infectious disease has had on humanity, as well as the incredible advances we have made over the past hundred years. Yet he also pointed to the limitations of innovation in medicine due to the support put toward other areas, including military defense. We could make immense progress toward the elimination of the diseases that plague us, particularly those who can least afford it, but “it all depends upon maintaining a stable social infrastructure, a peaceful world”.
Dr. Mohamad, the recipient of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, drove this point home. In a world in which a billion people survive on a pittance, yearning for basic rights and dignity, “we will rise together, or we will sink together”. We are divided by nationalism and extremism, driven to define ourselves through ethnic, racial and social groups, yet “what we have together is much more than what we have separately”. His point, though grim, also pointed to opportunity. We are in the position to change the path we are on, but we must all share in the responsibility to transform the existing paradigms.
As a learning community, we have been fortunate at NIST to build upon our connections to the United Nations and the ideals it represents. Our mission and values reflect a belief in the power of community, of working together to make a better world. Each of the Nobel laureates, in differing ways, pointed to the need to go beyond that mere belief. We have a responsibility, a shared duty to use our resources and influence to not simply benefit ourselves, but also help others rise as well. In doing so we ensure that our children and their children will inherit a more peaceful world, one that can be sustained far into the future.
About the Bridges Series Speakers
Professor Brian Schmidt is a member of Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Professor Schmidt worked with other scientists in the groundbreaking discovery of the accelerating universe in 1998. His use of supernovae as cosmological probes in demonstrating this earned him the Nobel Prize. Professor Schmidt spoke at NIST on 19 January on Science: humanity’s universal bridge.
Professor Bruce Beutler is the Director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. His scientific discoveries have led to therapies and preventative measures to combat infections and cancer. Professor Beutler’s Nobel Prize-winning work delved into the ways in which our immune systems activate in response to infection.
Dr. Mohamad ElBaradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1997 to 2009 and former Vice President of Egypt, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 “for his efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way”. In addition to his work with the IAEA, Dr. ElBaradei has led a distinguished career as a diplomat, international civil servant and scholar.