It has been a dark time. For a full year, the Kovid-19 epidemic caused uproar across the country, claiming the lives of 400,000 people. During that year, our politics was plagued with strife, culminating with false claims of a stolen election that led to a terrible, violent attack on the Capitol building.
It is no exaggeration to say that science has saved our life and our hope for the future. And did so by defeating all deniers who attacked its legitimacy.
Joe Biden was inaugurated as the new President of the United States on Wednesday, and as he begins trying to fix the nation, many Americans appear to be worried about the future. We wonder if our institutions, and our culture, are so broken that they are beyond repair. While those apprehensions are grounded in a reality that we cannot ignore, there is another reality that should give us reassurance and hope: the triumph of science.
Throughout all our turmoil, American science has not budged. Instead, American science in all its forms – institutions, individuals, and culture – not only remains solid through crises, but also gives us a way out of darkness. And now it provides us with a deeper reminder of greatness, when we work together and hold fast to the truth and our best ideals, as we must when we enter this new political era.
It is no exaggeration to say that science has saved our life and our hope for the future. And it did so by overcoming all legalists, who attack its legitimacy, dismiss its integrity and power, and repeatedly call for its funding to be cut. It is impossible to understand the magnitude of what science achieved in the face of the epidemic.
Vaccines typically take years to develop, if not decades, but researchers have worked tirelessly to deliver a lifetime vaccine in less than 12 months. One of the keys to rapid vaccine development was the use of mRNA technology, which remains on the cutting edge of genetic science. Instead of the time-consuming process of using inactivated viruses for vaccines, mRNA works by injecting small snippets of DNA directly into healthy cells, allowing them to quickly develop protection against the disease.
This success began in Philadelphia. Thirty years ago, Hungarian immigrant Katalin Kariko, who worked at the University of Pennsylvania, found her views on mRNA rejected by most peers. But with the quintessential American tenacity, he did not give up. In 2005, he and Penn Weisman, also of the University of Pennsylvania, published new results confirming the promise of mRNA.
This time, Promise was recognized by others, including the formation of a new biotech company in Boston, which transforms the science of mRNA into disease treatment. That upstart company eventually became Modern, whose scientists were among those who began the Hericane effort to create the biochemistry of the disease, the body’s response, the path to treatment, and ultimately vaccines. In this way, American scientists along with their allies achieved the impossible across the planet.
Vaccines, however, were not the only examples of American science to improve our lives and make our dreams come true in 2020. Artificial intelligence technology based on Google’s DeepMind, one of the world’s most advanced computer systems, pins breast cancer cells with high accuracy. Compared to doctors – the promise of a new generation of HyperSeps diagnostic tools for diseases.
And years later, when American astronauts were stopping the International Space Station ride on Russian rockets, as we had no next-generation spacecraft, privately owned SpaceX launched innovative American-designed, American-built rockets. US astronauts launched into space safely. In my own domain of astrophysics, I joined an audacious National Science Foundation project to use lasers the size of a football field to recreate situations deep inside the alien world.
This past year, science was a part of our society that not only continued to function, but also performed brilliantly. This is because it is based on the principles and ideals that remain at the heart of our collective national identity – and which American science fasted for others as well.
First, science is based on the possibility of collective truth. The Founding Fathers believed in the ideal of enlightenment that science provides a path for intelligent self-rule, a path that can save us from superstition and mob confusion. Those and leaders who knew that we could not succeed as a nation unless we had a common ground on which to discuss and debate the weighty issues of the day. Science is an extraordinary way of making that ground.
Second, science requires strong, sustainable institutions supported by leaders and people. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln appointed the National Academy of Sciences to advise Congress and the President about key issues of science and technology. After World War II and the success of science in defeating fascist powers, institutions such as the National Science Foundation were created to direct our country’s research efforts.
We could not develop Kovid-19 vaccines today without decades of investment in laboratories, students and research. By providing long-term horizon funds for scientific endeavors over generations, American government institutions demonstrated their ability to anticipate and cultivate the common good. In this way, all institutions around American science have ensured the health and vivacity of our economy and security.
Third, science must always look outward. The success of American science can only come from the success of science around the world. The achievement of the Kovid-19 vaccines was a worldwide effort coming from German companies such as Pfizer and British institutions such as Oxford University.
American science is strong when it advances through collaboration. This has been the case for a century, and that is why so many young students come here to further their scientific training. After their education, the best and brightest people in the world choose to live. They bring their talent for innovation in our culture and economy. Science always embraces these engines of hope and progress; It does not frighten them and turns them away.
This past year, science was a part of our society that not only continued to function, but also performed brilliantly.
Together, these principles ensured that American science delivered as it faced profound challenges. It made us happy. It showed us the glory of the world. This saved my life. Most important, in its success, we as a nation can find a way for our own renewal.
American science shows us the way: when we work together we are the strongest. When we hold fast to the institutions we create against lies. We prevail when we reject illusions with our burning desire to know and act on the truth.