Winfield House, which counts Regents Park as its garden, has been the home of the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom since 1955. Its most recent resident, Matthew Barzun, has made his mark on this beautiful building by introducing little quirks like a basketball hoop in the driveway and a disco turntable in the reception area. Art by leading names in the UK and US contemporary art scene adorns many of the rooms and draws attention to the role of culture in building international relationships. It was Julie Mehretu’s “System” that provided a chaotic yet stunningly precise backdrop for the talk hosted by the Ambassador this morning from Dan Goldin, the longest serving NASA administrator (he held the post during 3 different Presidents).
Taking inspiration from a Michelangelo quote, Dan’s talk was called “Seeing the angel” and focussed on the need to take risks and maintain a clear vision of the possibilities of the future to achieve true innovation. And then it comes down to figuring out how to carve that vision of the future out of the marble and set it free.
“There are better things in life than eating, drinking and Twitter. We need to inspire young people to see the possibilities of science.”
Changing the culture at NASA
In his 9 years at NASA, Dan oversaw a mass overhaul in the culture of the organisation, helping it to regain its reputation and scale down its budgets. At the start of his tenure, he faced the difficulty of challenging long established traditions and making unpopular decisions. Coming from humble upbringing in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York, Mr Goldin credited his success to non-conformity and a clarity of focus. Personally, he has always been driven by the desire to get an astronaut to Mars!
“I’m looking for individuals who are willing to make bold moves”
Some of the most probing questions were posed by members of US Embassy’s UK Young Leaders community. Faced with “How can we deal with issues of climate change?” and “How can we inspire the next generation in the UK to study STEM subjects”, Dan did not shy away from providing some provocative answers, pointing to the need to do away with bureaucracy, risk aversion and incrementalism. He argued that instead we should be placing value on integrity, boldness and creating environments for creativity.
This message resonates with our goals at the Royal Society of nurturing and supporting the best minds in science. The Society has developed a number of funding schemes that allow the most talented researchers, whatever their background, the freedom to explore their most exciting and novel ideas. Even if they seem unconventional!
The Royal Society and the USA
The Royal Society has a long history of collaborating with the USA on important developments in science. Starting with Benjamin Franklin, one of the American founding fathers, many of the Society’s Fellows and Foreign Members have been based in the USA.
In recent years we have partnered to host scientific meetings on cutting edge research and policy issues including Neuroscience and the Law, Climate Change, and Cybersecurity supported by the Raymond and Beverley Sackler Fund, as well as organising a public forum for discussions about Gene Editing in December 2015 in a tri-lateral effort with the Chinese Academy of Science.
This special relationship is only likely to grow in the future. The challenges and opportunities facing the global community will require an increasingly international approach and in science we will continue to look to our partners to step boldly into the future together!