Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner spoke of how a couple weeks ago he arrived at a brick building in Cambridge ready to tour an incubator that rents space to biotech companies. He noticed two plaques by the building’s entrance.
He learned that the same building was the office and laboratory of Edwin Land, Polaroid’s founder, after World War II. In the nineteenth century, Thomas Watson received the first long distance phone call from Alexander Graham Bell in this same building.
“That kind of experience is the essence of IDEAS Boston, and innovation in Boston,” Kirsner said. “It surrounds us every day, layer upon layer of experiments and failures and breakthroughs and patents and demonstrations, and then ideally IPOs and Nobel prizes at the end of all that.”
Kirsner, along with cohost Sacha Pfeiffer, host of WBUR’s All Things Considered, moderated this year’s tenth anniversary of IDEAS UMass Boston, a conference that brings innovators and leading thinkers from the worlds of science, the arts, technology, and business together to showcase the innovation happening in Boston.
This year’s presenters included a national security expert, a former candidate for Boston mayor, and an experimental theater troupe working to bring the “teaching hospital” model to the stage.
Biologist James Collins talked about his work engineering new cells in the lab that can be used to fight cholera and other diseases. UMass Boston's Sarah Oktay, director of the influential Nantucket Field Station, showed the audience how K-12 students and activists can be viable partners in research. Violist and social change advocate Ashleigh Gordon led the IDEAS UMass Boston audience in a clapping, finger-snapping, chanting demonstration of the musical lessons in history and culture–featuring prominent African-Americans artists and leaders–that she gives to young people across the state.
Neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe spoke on theory of mind, the method by which our brains allow us to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and Lovin’ Spoonfuls co-founder Ashley Stanley explained the process of “food rescue” – taking the billions of pounds of food Americans waste each year and redirecting it to feed the hungry.
Dorchester resident John Barros, chief of economic development for the city of Boston, opened IDEAS UMass Boston with a vision for opening avenues of opportunity to all Boston residents, regardless of neighborhood.
Also, for the first time this year, Chancellor J. Keith Motley presented three awards to people who have made a great impact on IDEAS UMass Boston. Collins, who spoke at the inaugural conference in 2004, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. Al Larkin, former publisher of The Boston Globe and founder of IDEAS Boston, was honored with Longstanding Commitment and Service Award. And the Champion of Innovation Award was given to Mayor Thomas Menino ‘88, who was not able to attend.
“His accomplishments over his more than 20 years in office transformed Boston into a hub for innovation, green development, young, smart, creative thinkers, small and large businesses, knowledge workers, and research,” Motley said.