The value of having large public award ceremonies for scientists, is that it gives their work some exposure to the public.
Take for instance Shinya Yamanaka. His discovery of iPS cells in 2006 was one of the most important discoveries this past decade. It not only taught us how to generate stem cells from any normal adult cell, but it also gave us a window into celluar programming. It is now clear that going from stem cell to normal differentiated cell is not an irreversable process. According to Google Scholar this paper has been cited 1400 times!!!!
This past week Shinya was one of the recipients of the Gairdner Foundation Award. As part of the ceremonies, he gave a couple of lectures at the University of Toronto. The awards were covered by several local papers, and as a result some basic science can reach the public. Does the average Joe appreciated it? You betcha. Here'san example. Friday morning as I stood in line to get the H1N1 vaccine (for myself, my wife and my 8 month year old son) I spotted an article in the Toronto Star - an interview with Shinya Yamanaka - and pointed it out to all the folks nearby. Many of them read the article and were impressed by his remarkable finding. They asked me to tell them more. "Has anyone else been able to do this?", "Can this technology be used to make eggs and sperm from adult cells?", "are people working on therapies?", "are there any problems with these cells?". Write it, and they will read!
Here are some of the local articles on Yamanaka & the Gairdners:
Toronto Star: Superstars of science converge on Toronto
Toronto Star: Stem cell breakthrough 'too simple' - Interview with Shinya Yamanaka
Globe and Mail: Canadian Gairdner prize a marker for future Nobels (This article features Liz Blackburn who just won a Nobel for her work on Telomeres)
Toronto Star: The chance to pick some brains of note
Globe and Mail: 'When we began, we were almost pariahs' - Interview with Dave Sackett, who studies evidence-based medicine, a topic that is of extreme relevance for the healthcare debate in the US.
On Yamanaka's collaboration with several U of Toronto Scientists:
Toronto Star: Ontario takes big step in cutting-edge stem-cell research
Globe and Mail: Ontario targets $25-million for stem-cell research
Canadian Press: Toronto researchers to co-lead international cancer stem cell projects
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