If you were to take a year off to "change the world," what would you aim to do?

Great scientists possess creativity and analytic skills that can be applied to problems outside their laboratories. In the online edition of this Bulletin, Patrick O. Brown explains why he's trimming back his academic responsibilities for a year so he can make a difference for the planet. Here, other scientists ponder what they might do with a free year.

Richard H. Ebright

HHMI INVESTIGATOR
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

I would run for the United States Senate. Our country faces educational, economic, and environmental crises that threaten its preeminence and possibly even its survival. There is a dearth of persons in the Senate with the ability to process and interpret the quantitative information needed to recognize and address these crises.

Alternatively, I would restore coral reefs by transplanting artificially propagated corals. Over a one-year period, I would be able to plant 5,000-10,000 coral plugs and cover an acre of seabed. This would be a small part of the world, but it would be a start.”

Maria Spies

HHMI EARLY CAREER SCIENTIST
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“I would most certainly pass up this opportunity—a year is too short to ‘change the world’ for better, even if the offer comes with a superhero cape. People in my line of work are already in a privileged position to make a positive impact. With every scientific mystery we solve, with every young researcher trained, with every student taking something away from our lectures, we make the world, if not a better place, at least a more enlightened one. I believe I am in exactly the right place to make incremental but lasting contributions to the world.”

L. René García

HHMI INVESTIGATOR
Texas A&M University

“I would spend the year traveling areas of the world that are experiencing social and educational problems, both to share my own expertise with the people there and to learn from them. I would coordinate the trip with a traveling hands-on science exhibition, so people could play with simple microscopes, telescopes, and other scientific tools to explore their environment. Through my travels, my goal would be to observe the differences and similarities between the various regions’ troubles. At the end, I would contemplate what I had learned and then decide future activities to promote more lasting changes.”

Susana López

HHMI INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH SCHOLAR
Institute of Biotechnology, National Autonomous University of Mexico

“I would invest that year in convincing people who make enormous amounts of money (TV and movie stars, singers, athletes, etc.) to donate just a small part of their earnings to make a well-administered foundation, with the sole purpose of ensuring that every child in underdeveloped countries has access to all available vaccines, independent of their cost, and to guarantee that these children are nourished properly during the first five years of their lives. This would help give a fair start in life to the people born in underdeveloped nations.”

Photos: Ebright: Jennifer Altman; Spies: L. Brian Stauffer / UIUC News Bureau; García: Michael Stravato / AP ©HHMI ; López: David Rolls

Scientist Profile

Investigator
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Early Career Scientist
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Investigator
Texas A&M University
Genetics, Neuroscience
International Scholar
Institute of Biotechnology, National Autonomous University of Mexico
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