On July 16th Lois and I got dressed up for the World Technology Awards. As a member of the World Technology Network, I’ve had the honor of participating in the nomination process for awards in the law category since 2001 and of attending these festivities.
This year we were joined by M.P. Moon, a patent attorney colleague of mine at Elman Technology Law, P.C.
I chanced to seat myself next to Kevin Wang, founder and chief scientific officer of Banyan Biomarkers, Inc. The company, located in Gainesville, Florida, is developing tests for various kinds of brain injury. I invited him on returning home to convey my greetings to certain research faculty at the University of Florida, Gregory Schultz and Christopher Batich, who are sparkplugs for some of the technology being developed by our client Quick-Med Technologies, Inc.
Next to him was an attractive woman from Stanford University. When I disclosed that Lois and I are webmasters for the Stanford alumni club in Philadelphia, she favored us with a charming Cheshire-cat smile. She said she works in bioengineering and has contact with Stanford Medical Center researchers. I asked if she happened to know my cousin Kay Ptashne, who used to work there. Christina said, no, she didn’t think they had crossed paths. Flashing that smile again, she added that she recognized the name of Mark Ptashne, whom I acknowledged is Kay’s brother.
To my chagrin, I hadn’t yet encountered reports of her work, and Christina looked somewhat younger than my daughter, so I asked if she was, maybe, a grad student. She replied that she’s been on faculty for five years. And, hearing that she was one of the nominees that night, it seemed to me that she was pretty young to be nominated for one of these World Technology Awards.
Now imagine you’re at the Oscars, men in tuxedos, women in evening dress — but in this version the category isn’t “best picture” or “best actor” but rather “individual achievement expected to have lasting impact in their field of enveavor” such as biotechnology, design, information technology, law, or another of the twenty categories for individual nominees and ten categories for corporations.
On the stage from which just six hours previously I had presented my own talk, CNN business anchor Ali Velshi and WTN Chairman James Clark declared “… and the 2009 World Technology Award for biotechnology goes to … Christina Smolke and Maung Nyan Win.” It seemed to me that Christina hesitated just a moment, maybe not so sure she’d heard correctly, or perhaps composing her thoughts while taking a breath, and then she strode confidently to the stage, picking her way among the closely packed dinner tables in the sold-out room.
Modestly accepting the award, represented by a double-helix ladder-shape embedded within a cuboid of crystal, she gave a brief summary of what their peers regard as groundbreaking work.
This morning I learned more. The current issue of the Stanford Magazine had been delivered to my mailbox at home while we were in New York, and now I was able to sort through a few days’ accumulation of snail mail. The cover of the July/August issue features a fanciful image representing a cross between a mechanical gear train and nucleic acid base-pairs. Its accompanying story is entitled “Do-it-Yourself DNA: Bioengineers are harnessing genetic raw material to create living ‘machines.’ Where might it all lead?” It’s a report on the latest work of Christina Smolke’s team. Wow!