Liberty Science Center Genius Gala Recognizes Great Work in Science

By Brenda Flanagan

Liberty Science Center’s fourth annual Genius Gala packed the place with corporate glitterati who paid more than a grand a plate to watch three high-powered celebrities accept the center’s special kudos. Number one — Vinton Cerf, the widely-acknowledged “Father of the Internet” (no, it’s not Al Gore). He praised the science center and New Jersey (sort of).

“I had no clue that Liberty Science Center existed! I feel like an idiot! Now I’ve discovered, my god, New Jersey actually has something of interest here,” Cerf said.

Cerf’s the expert — so we asked him about the recent hack attack on Rutgers computer servers, which left thousands of students with no internet connection heading into year-end final exams.

“There are things that can be done and are being done to armor the system to defend against this. I don’t want to be Pollyanna. This is hard, you have to get it deployed, everybody has to turn it on. But we have to do that. It’s not just the kids at Rutgers that are at risk. It’s everybody who uses the net,” he said.

The gala boasted some singular entertainment, like a jam session featuring two NASA scientists and a violin-playing prodigy, and magician David Blaine who swallowed string and then pulled it out through his skin.

Bottom line, though, this fundraiser’s all about kids — 190,000 visited the center last year, more than half of them from schools in at-risk communities like Camden and Newark.

“And that is our special mission: to help those kids, to identify those kids, to give them extra help so they can succeed and interest them in careers in science and technology,” said Liberty Science Center CEO Paul Hoffman.

“It’s just great to be able to stand up and say, ‘C’mon, girls! Let’s get to it,’” said Jill Tarter.

Meet Genius Award Winner number two — Astronomer Jill Tarter, a researcher who listens for extraterrestrial chatter. She says girls need role models in science.

“If you see women doing things that are off the wall, interesting, you never thought of that, but hell, yeah! Maybe that’d be something I could do! It’s really empowering,” she said.

The Gala’s third Genius Award Winner — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — shared some insight.

“It’s impossible for me to imagine a world 20 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff, I love Amazon, I just wish your prices were a little higher. I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Those things are impossible to imagine,” he said.

“To see this place full of people, see these big, heavy-hitters here, seeing New Jersey, Liberty Science Center being recognized as one of the best places doing science in the entire country. I mean this is exciting,” said former Gov. Tom Kean.

“This is probably one of my favorite events of the entire year. I get invited to a lot of events like this, but this is a unique one. They raise terrific money for a terrific cause,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Liberty Science Center won’t say exactly how much this fundraiser raised, but with tickets priced at $1,250 a pop — and a sold-out crowd of 700 — well, you do the math.