Liberty Science Center Honors Pioneers at 12th Annual Genius Gala

On May 20, the Liberty Science Center will be hosting its 12th Annual Genius Gala to honor the careers of some of science’s most influential contributors. All proceeds earned from the gala will go toward making the highest level of scientific learning more accessible to students, teachers and families in areas that are most in need of it.

The following people will be honored at the Genius Gala: 

  • Joseph Graves Jr. – Groundbreaking evolutionary biologist
  • Andrea “Annie” Kritcher – Nuclear fusion pioneer 
  • Nicholas Schiff, MD – Traumatic brain injury treatment innovator
  • William Shatner (Icon Award Honoree) – Actor and space adventurer

The festivities will kick off at 6 p.m., where cocktails will be served and guests will have the opportunity to network and reconnect with individuals involved in the world of science. Immediately after, the ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. with dinner and the awards program. 

The program will feature a variety of presenters including important figures in the world of NJ politics, including Governor Murphy and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Additionally, renowned members of the scientific community will be in attendance, such as former President and CEO of PSE&G Ralph Izzo, his wife Karen and biotech trailblazer and 2019 Genius Award recipient Martine Rothblatt.

The prestigious award is only given to the most impactful minds in the world of science. Some of the previous honorees include Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and renowned primatologist Jane Goodall among many other impressive individuals.

Each honoree has made a profound impact on the field of science in their own right.

Joseph Graves Jr. – Graves, a NJ native, is a professor of biological science at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. Prior to joining the school, he held positions at several schools, including the University of California, Irvine, Arizona State University and Fairleigh Dickinson University.

His research has consisted of examining evolution and physiological performance in a group of small flies. He has also performed groundbreaking work by using nanomaterials to defeat harmful bacteria. His work looks at the genomics of adaptation among other fields largely influenced by his background in evolutionary biology.

Andrea “Annie” Kritcher – Kritcher is a nuclear engineer and physicist, who specializes in inertial confinement fusion, which is a process that initiates nuclear fusion reactions by compressing and heating materials filled with fuel. She was responsible for the creation of Hybrid-E, a capsule that enables inertial confinement fusion.

Kritcher was elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2022. Additionally, her team was able to achieve the “Holy Grail” of nuclear fusion, a clean source of potentially limitless energy, by creating the first controlled fusion ignition that created more energy than it consumed.

Nicholas Schiff, MD – Dr. Nicholas Schiff is a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College. His research links basic neuroscience to the effects of deep brain electrical stimulation techniques on forebrain integration. Schiff also led a revolutionary experiment that saw five people with severe brain injuries achieve improved cognitive function after receiving electrode implants that stimulated a structure deep within their brains. 

Schiff’s work has earned him many accolades over the course of his career, including being elected a Fellow of the American Neurological Association. He also won the 2007 Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience from the Society for Neuroscience and the 2009 Bakken Pioneer Award from the Earl and Doris Bakken Heart-Brain Institute. 

William Shatner – Shatner has been acting since the 50s, but his most iconic role came in the mid-60s when he starred in Star Trek: The Original Series. Though, his role in space exploration has gone far beyond starring in the TV series.

On Oct. 13, 2021, Shatner boarded Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Space Shuttle, where he became the oldest person to travel in space at the time. At 93 years old, Shatner, while not a scientist, has had a long-lasting impact on the world of space exploration and how it is viewed in pop culture.