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'We Haven't Lost Our Pizzazz'
Gottesman Honored at Research Fest

By Rich McManus

Photos by Janet Stephens and Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...

Apparently, the intelligent, witty and humane manner that characterizes most of NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman's personal interactions is something that other people have noticed — he was the surprised recipient of an engraved crystal memento Sept. 28, just moments after he had delivered the 18th annual NIH Research Festival's keynote address.


Gottesman had chosen as his topic "A Creative Culture and Its Spectacular Science," focusing on the rich tradition and future prospects of the NIH intramural programs. Little did he suspect that many of his colleagues think that he embodies most of the virtues his talk touted.

Deciding to honor Gottesman was really kind of a no-brainer for this year's organizing committee, led by scientific directors Dr. Marvin Gershengorn of NIDDK and Dr. Eric Green of NHGRI. "We all thought that having Michael Gottesman as the keynote speaker was the best idea we could come up with," said Gershengorn.

Dr. Michael Gottesman
Gottesman set out to review those elements of NIH culture that have contributed to its success, show how current trends reflect the best aspects of that culture ("We haven't lost our pizzazz," he stated at the outset. "We're still doing very well.") and describe the essential elements of success that NIH must retain into the future.

Creative people are at the heart of NIH's preeminence, he said. Borrowing from the thesis of an urban planning book, Gottesman said "three T's" contribute to NIH's success: technology, talent and tolerance.

Using slides, Gottesman embarked on a tour of NIH history from 1887 to the present, pausing to note that NIH scientists and grantees "have won more Laskers than any other research institution...and there have been more than 90 members of the National Academy of Sciences at NIH — most are still working." He admonished young people in the audience, "You're walking in the shadows of greatness here."

NHGRI scientific director Dr. Eric Green (l) presents Gottesman with etched glass memento.

So how did we attract such excellent people? Again, virtues came in threes — NIH built an impressive intramural enterprise ("If you build it, they will come," quipped Gottesman), has been able to gain stable resources over the years and has relied on special recruitment programs targeting select audiences. These include married couples (there had been anti-nepotism rules in academia that thwarted husband-wife scientific teams — Gottesman called Dr. Alan Rabson and Dr. Ruth Kirschstein "the quintessence of this kind of recruiting" but could as easily have mentioned his own wife, Susan, who is an NCI scientist), young men who desired an alternative to military service during both the Korean and Vietnam wars (the so-called "Yellow Berets" were men who took advantage of the Clinical Associate Program in lieu of boot camp, and include in their ranks Clinical Center director Dr. John Gallin, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIDDK director Dr. Allen Spiegel and Gottesman himself, among others) and even bright neighborhood kids who chose careers down the Pike at NIH (Drs. Malcolm Martin of NIAID, Warren Leonard of NHLBI and Steve Katz, NIAMS director, are all local products; Katz is a B-CC High School grad).

Flanked by Dr. Marvin Gershengorn (l), scientific director at NIDDK and festival organizer, and his colleague Green is NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who is clearly enjoying Gottesman's talk.

Apologizing in advance for having to leave so many worthy people out, Gottesman offered brief biographical sketches of some of the intramural programs' most successful current scientists, including Dr. Neal Young and Dr. Mark Gladwin of NHLBI, NIA's Dr. John Hardy, NHGRI's Dr. Robert Nussbaum, NICHD's Dr. Juan Bonifacino and Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz and Dr. Alan Koretsky of NINDS. Virtually all testified that their jobs are immensely rewarding and that they feel "like kids in a candy store." They touted projects large and small, relish the freedom of following their instincts and love a campus where ego, title and past distinctions take second place to Science. As Nussbaum said in a brief film clip, "I really like the lack of intellectual pretension on this campus — science is the coin of the realm here."

Looking to the future, Gottesman predicted more high-risk, high-impact research in intramural laboratories, owing to a profusion of "toys" (new infrastructure), technical support and new lab buildings, not to mention a raft of at least 9 training programs targeting minorities, women, married couples, foreign scientists, early-career investigators (both tenure-track and trainee) and others who are committed to doing the best science, often in teams, regardless of its commercial potential. "We have a far more diverse group of scientists than ever before at NIH," he said.

Patrons of the annual Research Festival lunch gather in a tent at the rear of the Natcher Bldg. to eat, enjoy one another's company and listen to live jazz by a trio of high schoolers.

He touted the opening of the new Clinical Research Center among a host of new research facilities on campus, all of which have been designed to encourage interactions among different scientific groups. The Vaccine Research Center holds much promise, he said, as does the half-completed Porter Neuroscience Center, which opened in July to 49 scientists from seven institutes. Bldg. 33, a biodefense facility, is rapidly rising into the air, an NIH Chemical Genomics Center is on the way, and, in the future, in the area on the south side of campus where old one-story buildings currently house animals, a new Center for the Biology of Disease will be built, emphasizing animal studies.

In conclusion, Gottesman said that intellectual freedom, a critical mass of talent, stable resources and funding, and leadership that recognizes NIH's unique features and preserves them combine to predict a glorious future for intramural NIH. "And the last 'T' is thanks," he said.

Walter Johnson High students (from l) Ben Bolasny, Clay Hackett and Kevin Shaigany find a groove at the Research Festival lunch.

Before Gottesman could leave the podium, and before the audience could light out for the traditionally rich menu of Research Festival symposia and workshops, Eric Green lauded him for 11 years of strong, decisive leadership as NIH deputy director for intramural research. Green called Gottesman a "champion" and "the epitome of an NIH patriot. He is extremely good at tough decisions...he has a fair, compassionate style and outstanding judgement. He is remarkably well-liked by his colleagues, and is simply amazing in the job that he does. He's always calm and has a knack for really knowing the right issues to address, with the right timing. He has a sharp sense of humor, and is really our hero."

With that, he and Gershengorn presented Gottesman with a handsome etched crystal including an image of Bldg. 1. "We present this to you for exemplary leadership of the intramural research programs on behalf of all the scientific directors," said Green, and the audience rose to applaud.

"I'm speechless," said Gottesman. "This is a total surprise to me. There's no greater praise than that of one's colleagues. I'll do all I can to make sure the promise of NIH is kept."

Gottesman shows off his new award from NIH's scientific directors after his keynote talk at Research Festival on Sept. 28.

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