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“The last week we were all wondering: will the azaleas bloom in time?”

And indeed they did bloom, just in time for the Women and Science lecture and luncheon at The Rockefeller University. “This is always one of my favorite events because we not only showcase our talented women scientists at Rockefeller, but also the incredible beauty of our campus in the spring,” added the biomedical research university’s president Richard P. Lifton, kicking off the annual event.

In addition to raising awareness and funding for the university, it marked a changing of the guard: next month, Russell L. Carson will retire as the chair of the school’s board of trustees. “This is the last Women and Science luncheon since he’ll step down. And the first he’s come to,” committee cochair Judy Berkowitz remarked to the crowd, in jest.

Thursday’s gathering featured a talk on “DNA Repair: The Power of Precision Medicine in Treating Cancer,” led by school alumna and head of the institution’s Laboratory of Genome Maintenance Agata Smogorzewska. After a Q&A session, the crowd proceeded past the campus’ blooms and underneath a tent for lunch. The science talk followed closely behind: many of the university’s female faculty were dispersed among the tables. Seated at a table with Marigay McKee was Jue Chen, a leading cystic fibrosis researcher and the university’s William E. Ford professor; Ford, who is engaged to McKee, will take over as the Board of Trustees chairman this year.

“Bill’s very interested in medical research; he believes we’re in the middle of the golden age of biology. We’ve had the golden age of physics and chemistry, and so now Rockefeller University is at the pinnacle of finding cures for so many diseases,” remarked McKee, who has been part of the Women and Science initiative for five years. “I always focus on the three Hs. They were the first to find out the heredity aspect [of DNA], they were the first to discover that methadone could be used for heroin addiction, and they were the first to discover a long-term cure for HIV,” she added, also listing several other accolades for the institution — it’s where the concept of blood type was discovered, and it has the highest number of Nobel Prize-winning scientists in the world (that would be 25 of them since its 1901 founding.)

“I also think it’s important in the world that we live in now to have more women scientists, more women researchers, have more women involved in the Rockefeller University institute,” McKee continued. “Life science has never really been that sexy, and I think now is the time to make life science really sexy. I’m sitting here next to a life science expert, and you’re sitting next to a [future] Nobel Prize-winning scientist.”

That scientist in question, Chen, was excited to discuss her research and the recent Rockefeller auction at Christie’s, bringing up on her phone a photo of herself standing next to the Picasso painting that sold for $115 million. She had good reason to be excited: the auction proceeds will all be donated, including partially to the university.

In other words, that painting will buy quite a few micropipettes.

Agata Smogorzewska and Richard P. Lifton 

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