SmithGroup Lecture Series

SmithGroup Lecture Series

The architectural firm SmithGroup supports this lecture series at the Beckman Institute. Formerly Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls Associates of Detroit, SmithGroup designed the Beckman Institute. The firm was particularly proud of this project and presented a modest endowment to support a lecture series in its name. The gift was given in honor of the founding director of the institute, Theodore L. Brown.

The Beckman Institute presents: the SmithGroup Lecture Series

2024 SmithGroup Lecture

Cyrus Wadia, chief executive officer of Activate, gave the lecture April 18 in the Beckman Auditorium.

"Filling the Science Leadership Gap"

Cyrus WadiaThe interdependence of science and society has become more pronounced. As humanity grapples with existential challenges like climate change, public health crises, and the quest for sustainable energy, the role of scientific understanding and technological innovation in shaping our future cannot be overstated. This nexus underscores the imperative for a populace well-versed in scientific principles, not merely for specialized professions but as a cornerstone of informed citizenship. Furthermore, the integration of science into policymaking and business innovation signals a paradigm shift towards empirically grounded decisions and strategies that promise to revolutionize industries and governance alike.

Amidst this backdrop, the Activate Fellowship emerges as a beacon of hope and action. Activate is dedicated to empowering the next generation of science leaders to tackle society's greatest challenges through the transformative lens of entrepreneurship. Activate addresses a critical gap in the innovation ecosystem by supporting scientists with the ambition to translate their groundbreaking research into impactful enterprises. The initiative's entrepreneurial fellowship provides access to world-class labs, financial resources, mentorship, and a network of support, catalyzing the development of 188 science leaders, over 147 science-based companies, the creation of more than 2,000 U.S.-based jobs, and attracting $1.9 billion in follow-on funding since 2015.

This lecture explained the critical need for nurturing science leaders in society who are equipped with knowledge and the entrepreneurial acumen to drive sustainable change. It explored the synergies between scientific rigor, policy-making, business innovation, and education in fostering a more equitable and resilient world. It illustrated this position with success stories from Activate alumni. By highlighting the success of the Activate Fellowship and its vision to scale impact through supporting science entrepreneurs, we underscored the vital role of investment in scientific talent and leadership as a cornerstone for securing a sustainable, resilient and equitable future for all.

About Cyrus Wadia

Cyrus Wadia (he/him) is chief executive officer of Activate. Wadia was previously director of worldwide product sustainability at Amazon and vice president of sustainable business and innovation at Nike.

He also served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Barack Obama as assistant director of clean energy and materials research and development, responsible for mobilizing more than $1 billion toward cutting-edge materials science and innovation.

Previously, he was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company, a senior program officer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the founding co-director of the Haas School of Business Clean Tech to Market initiative. Wadia holds a Ph.D. in energy and resources from UC Berkeley and an M.S. in chemical engineering from MIT

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Previous SmithGroup Lectures

  • Safiya Noble (April 2022)
    MacArthur Foundation Fellow, professor of gender studies and African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-founder and co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry.
  • Jaclyn Jensen (April 2021)
    Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University
  • Albert-László Barabási (April 2019)
    Center of Complex Networks Research, Northeastern University; Division of Network Medicine, Harvard University; and the Department of Network and Data Sciences at Central European University.
  • Sandra Tsing Loh (April 2018)
    Host of the syndicated daily radio science minute and NPR podcast “The Loh Down on Science” and adjunct associate professor in drama and science communication at University of California, Irvine.
  • L. Mahadevan (April 2017)
    England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, professor of physics, Harvard University
  • Michael Posner (April 2016 )
    Professor emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon
  • Chad Mirkin (October 2014)
    George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry and Director, International Institute for Nanotechnology, Northwestern University
  • Victor Regnier (April 2013)
    Professor of architecture and gerontology at the University of Southern California
  • Jeff Hawkins (November 2010 )
    Founder, Numenta, Inc.
  • Felice Frankel (September 2008 )
    Senior Research Fellows, Harvard
  • Helen Neville (October 2007 )
    Psychology/Neuroscience, Oregon
  • James Carey (April 2006)
    Entomology, University of California-Davis
  • Douglas Noll (October 2003)
    Biomedical Engineering, Michigan
  • Lawrence Rabiner (October 2001)
    Vice President AT&T Labs
  • George Whitesides (March 1999)
    Chemistry, Harvard
  • Norman Allinger (March 1995)
    Chemistry, Georgia
  • Inaugural speaker: James Watson (October 1992)
    Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory