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"The Essence of Life". A Meeting with Professor Waclaw Szybalski

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2017 - 5:00 PM

Z. Darzynkiewicz (introductory remarks)

The Kosciuszko Foundation established the Collegium of Eminent Scientists to honor eminent scientists of Polish Origin and Ancestry who have achieved high recognition in the USA. A goal of the Collegium is to recognize, highlight, and publicize their achievements and important contributions to the respective fields of science. Among other objectives of the Collegium is to identify, record, and establish a directory of eminent Polish scientists and scientists of Polish descent residing in America that would be of interest to future historians.

Frank Wilczek, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2004 in physics, has added his prestige by accepting an invitation to serve as an honorary member of the Collegium's Board of Advisors. He was a special guest at the Kosciuszko Foundation's 77th Annual Ball in 2012 when the official announcement of the formation of the Collegium was made. Other notable honorary Advisers are Roald Hoffmann, recipient of the Nobel Prize in chemistry; Maria Siemionow the surgeon and transplantation scientist who led a team of eight surgeons through the world's first near-total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008, and Wacław Szybalski, the person whom we are honoring today. At present the Collegium lists over 400 scientists from different fields of natural sciences. Among them are four Nobel Prize recipients, numerous members of the US Academy of Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences and Polish Academy of Learning.

Let me give you a short perspective of beginnings of my knowledge of Professor Szybalski's research. During my middle school education and when I started medical studies (in 1952-1959) teaching of genetics was forbidden in Poland, as we were force-fed with the Marxist ideology. The evidence of chromosomes within the cell was explained as an artifact provided by the evil imperialist scientists. I was in my second year of Medical study when Professor Jan Bowkiewicz, the chairman of the Biology Department, in his lectures "smuggled" certain information about genetics. Since this was politically incorrect the communistic administration of the University attempted to fire him. Perhaps because he was so popular among students these attempts were unsuccessful. At that time one of the assistants of Professor Bowkiewicz, Dr. Andrzej Kozinski was invited by Szybalski for a yearly fellowship in his lab. Upon his return Dr. Kozinski had a series of lectures tor students in the research groups ("kolka naukowe"), outlining bases of genetics and describing the research program of Professor Szybalski. I was one of these students and for me, these were the most thrilling events, the eye-opening on secret mechanisms of biology and bases of medicine. It was apparent that by using microorganism Professor Szybalski was developing a foundation of molecular genetics, the new discipline that revolutionized biology and medicine. It was then, under influence of this knowledge, I decided to bestow my professional life to studies on cell and molecular biology rather to applied medicine. The choice of a direction of my professional life thus, to a large degree, I owe to Professor Szybalski.
There is another personal association with Professor Szybalski. This association was described by Dr. Dorota Halicka in her article to the Polish Daily News, which in the title refers to the "Last Mohicans". The name "Last Mohicans" stems from the James Fenimore Cooper famous novel and subsequently epic drama movie "The Last of the Mohicans". She defines the "Last Mohicans" as the members of the Collegium of Eminent Scientists who were born in Poland, in Wilno and Lwow Voivodeship. As a result of Yalta and Potsdam Treaty, these territories were given to Stalin. The Last Mohicans, thus are the current Polish scientists born before the Second World War who were deprived of the motherland. Considering their age it is easy to realize why they can be defined as the "last". Professor Szybalski was born, and he also studied at the Polytechnic University, in Lwow. He often stresses that Lwow still remains a very dear place for him. To honor him and his love of Lwow, I feel the need to mention this association. Professor Roald Hoffman who gave us the first lecture of the Collegium of Eminent Scientists series also has roots in the Lwow region. Another Nobel laureate, Andrew Schally, was born in Wilno. The Wilno region is also my birth-place. We are thus seeing the historical event of passing the generation of scientists which can be epitomized as the "Last Mohicans". Professor Waclaw Szybalski is one of the most prominent representatives of this generation.

Meeting of Poland President Andrzej Duda with Members of the KF Collegium of Eminent Scientists

On September 20, 2017, the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, visited The Kosciuszko Foundation in New York City. He was invited by the Foundation to meet with members of the scientific community who are of Polish origin and are members of the Kosciuszko Foundation Collegium of Eminent Scientists.

At the meeting were delegates from the Polish governments, scientists and members of the Collegium, including Polish Ambassador to the United States, Piotr Wilczek; Chief of the Cabinet of the President's Chancellery, Krzysztof Szczerski; Chief of the National Security Bureau, Paweł Soloch; Consul General of the Republic of Poland in New York, Maciej Golubiewski; Associate Medical Director at Biogen (Research and Early Clinical Development), Mirosław Bryś, M.D., Ph.D.; President and Research Director of PharmaSeq, Inc., Włodzimierz Mandecki, Ph.D; Professor of Mathematics at Northeastern Illinois University, Lidia Filus; and a member of the machine learning team at Google Research New York, Krzysztof Choromanski, Ph.D.

The President and Executive Director of the Kosciuszko Foundation, Marek Skulimowski, welcomed President Duda and his delegation with a brief history of the Foundation and its founding, and its core mission to continue to serve the Polish and Polish-American communities in the States. President Duda, on behalf of Poland, thanked the Kosciuszko Foundation for inviting him and his delegation, as he is the first Polish president to have visited the Foundation. President Duda remarked on the achievements of the Foundation, and for continuing to promote and support a culture of learning, especially among the Polish youth, for the last 92 years.

Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz, a founding member of the Collegium and the Director of the Brander Cancer Research Institute at the New York Medical College, addressed the distinguished guests, stating that one of the foundations of the Collegium is to showcase the immense achievements of Polish scientists, and their work and research and technological advancements. Notable members of the Collegium include Nobel laureates in medicine, physics, and chemistry, and other industry leaders. Professor Darzynkiewicz observed that it is fitting the Collegium was established at the Kosciuszko Foundation, as the Foundation's namesake was himself a military engineer and architect. These deep Polish roots of the Foundation and the Collegium only further strengthen the mission to advocate for more Poles, and Polish-Americans, in the fields of science and technology.

The meeting was not only a chance to present to the President the current leaders and thinkers in these fields, but also to find ways to help further the education of the students in Poland who wish to study and learn abroad, as was brought up by Dr. Celina Imielinska, an electrical engineer and computer scientist and founder of Vesalius Technologies. President Duda recommended that the Kosciuszko Foundation serves as the link between the Polish government, and those students seeking studies abroad to receive the information they need.

This recent and important meeting with President Duda, the Kosciuszko Foundation, and the Collegium will increase the dialogue between the Polish governments and the Foundation in order to raise awareness of Polish scientific achievements in the United States and encourage the younger generation of Polish ancestry to seek support from this rich Polish scientific community.

First Collegium of Eminent Scientists' Lecture


Roald Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Zloczow, Poland. Having survived the war, he came to the U. S. in 1949, and studied chemistry at Columbia and Harvard Universities (Ph.D. 1962). Since 1965 he is at Cornell University, now as the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus. He has received many of the honors of his profession, including the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with Kenichi Fukui).

"Applied theoretical chemistry" is the way Roald Hoffmann likes to characterize the particular blend of computations stimulated by experiment and the construction of generalized models, of frameworks for understanding, that is his contribution to chemistry. The pedagogical perspective is very strong in his work.

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