Guest post By Roger Highfield Director of External Affairs
Want to find out who is going to change our world? The answer was given last night at a dinner held in the Science Museum.
The gathering was held to celebrate the winners of the latest in a series of global biennial awards “aimed at fostering a spirit of enterprise ” funded by a philanthropic programme run by Rolex. Since the scheme was first established in 1976, there have been 120 ‘Rolex laureates‘.
The dinner was attended by luminaries from the worlds of science, medicine and the arts, such as heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, physicist and tv presenter Professor Jim Al-Khalili, neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore and Deborah Bull, creative director of the Royal Opera House.
This year there were 3,512 applications to the 2012 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a record number, including a higher percentage of young people than ever before. “We were thrilled,” said Rebecca Irvin, head of the Rolex Institute, Geneva.
Irvin said that five Laureates have been selected to receive Swiss Franc 100,000 and a Rolex chronometer, after an extensive selection process involving leading figures such as geneticist and populariser Steve Jones, ‘Her Deepness’ marine explorer Sylvia Earle and museum professional Mahrukh Tarapor
The five laureates who stood in turn to sustained applause at the dinner are:
Sergei Bereznuk, director of the Vladivostok-based Phoenix Fund, who has spent two decades trying to save the Siberian tiger, or Amur, which is the biggest of the tigers. Bereznuk believes that conservation depends on both anti-poaching measures and educating local people, the elements at the core of his Rolex Award-winning project.
Barbara Block, professor at Stanford University, who has pioneered the use of tagging to study large marine predators such as sharks and tuna which are critical for the delicate balance of our ocean ecosystems, but under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution. With her Rolex Award, Block will create a marine “predator cafés”, or ocean observatories, along the Californian coastline. Her ultimate goal is the creation of a marine UNESCO World Heritage site there.
Mark Kendall, professor at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, University of Queensland, Australia. With his “Nanopatch” he hopes to tackle problems linked to the traditional needle and syringe vaccination. His Rolex Award should allow Kendall to fast-track use in developing countries of the Nanopatch, which vaccinates with microscopic projections covered with dry vaccine.
Erika Cuéllar. Known as “the biologist of the guanacos”, Erika works in the Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco, the largest protected tropical dry forest. Cuéllar has shifted her focus to the wider Gran Chaco region, which spans Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The award will help her train local ethnic groups such as the Guaraní, Ayoreode and Chiquitano as parabiologists to lead environmental efforts.
Aggrey Otieno, Executive director of the non-profit organisation Pambazuko Mashinani, who works in Korogocho, Nairobi’s fourth-largest slum, where around 200,000 people are squeezed into only 1.5 kilometres squared. Otieno plans to build a telemedicine centre with a 24-hour, on-call doctor and van and will use his Rolex Award funds to train birth attendants and conduct health education.
The setting for the celebration was appropriate. The museum, led by Ian Blatchford, is a treasure house of the ideas and the objects that have changed our world. It boasts the most extensive collection of significant objects in science and technology, not least the first practical and long lasting self-winding wristwatch, introduced by Rolex in 1931.
The event was addressed by Rebecca Irvin of the Rolex Institute, Richard de Leyser, managing director of Rolex UK, Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, and geneticist Professor Steve Jones, who meditated on the nature and nurture of enterprise.