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From the President’s Desk: Leslie Petter

Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2020 Hindsight and the Miracle of 2021

As with most hard times, when we look at them in the rearview mirror, we realize that they were full of lessons.  In 2020, we learned things we never realized we needed to know, and now they seem indispensable.  Technology and science saved the day.  Technology has given us what seems like a near-infinite number of ways to work and communicate.  Email, so useful in our arsenal, is now joined by Zoom, Slack, Dropbox, Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams, and many, many more.  While these give us the cold technological equivalent of connection, it is pure science - the miracle of the vaccine – that will provide the warm hope of being together again.

The vaccine is, indeed, a triumph of modern science.  It seems incredible that it took less than 48 hours to unravel the genetic building blocks of COVID-19, by decoding the 28,000 letters of the virus’s RNA.  Unraveling the structure of the virus was the key. Without unraveling the RNA of the virus, no one could have started working on vaccines.  The technique of these vaccines - which use messenger RNA to give the body a blueprint to manufacture its own virus fragments to attack - is revolutionary.  And the speed with which this vaccine was created is unprecedented in scientific history.  Surely, it is with this spirit of awe and celebration that we should start 2021.

For us as ARCS members, our shared interest in science, our shared mission to support young scientists, our shared belief that science would provide a path forward, are the things that have bound us together.  Science has provided the connection while we have been apart.

While science may have saved the day, there is no question that 2020 was hard, and learning how to cope with it came at the price of sleepless nights for many of us.  There was so much to know, so much to learn, so much to be done.  I grew up in Japan, so when things seem overwhelming, I write haiku.  It helps distill my thoughts and clarify my priorities.

It occurred to me as I was going through this exercise one sleepless night, that in some ways, writing a haiku has many characteristics of a scientific experiment.  In haiku, you distill a thousand circulating thoughts to their essence – one by one removing all but the most important, in the same way that a scientist would carefully evaluate and remove variables in an experiment.  What remains is where you need to focus, your answer, your 5-7-5 verse.  It is remarkable how calming this meticulous act of curating your thoughts can be.  As it turns out, this haiku is something that I sincerely believe. 

ARCS

Honor and awards

To celebrate our scholars

Will change our future

 

For me, 2020 was the year science saved the day and poetry saved the night.

With my warmest wishes to all of you for a year full of awe and celebration,

Leslie