The Rockefeller University
 Office of the President | June 25, 2021

Dear colleagues,

I hope you enjoyed the last weekend and found time to reflect on the significance of Juneteenth, both as a measure of how far we have come and how far we have to go in establishing a free, equal, and just society. It is both encouraging and gratifying that last week, by a bipartisan act of Congress signed into law by President Biden, Juneteenth was designated as a new national holiday.

I am pleased to report that for the first time since last March there have been zero positive COVID tests reported in our community over the last two weeks, and no new cases have been identified in on-campus testing since May 5, a span of 51 days! Infection rates in the New York area have also reached new lows since the start of the pandemic, with only 180 new cases per day, about 1 per 50,000 people.

The challenge now will be to keep the virus in check. Real-world data in the US has demonstrated exceptional efficacy of vaccination in preventing hospitalization and death. National data from the CDC indicates that in May, more than 99% of the 853,000 COVID hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths were in people who were not fully vaccinated, stunning testimony to the effectiveness of protection by vaccines in use in the US, and to the persistent risk of serious outcomes in individuals who are not vaccinated.

An increasing risk in the U.S. is the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has swept through India with devastating effect and has caused a rapid increase in cases in the UK. This variant is now in most states in the US and has quickly proliferated, already accounting for 20% of all new infections, with case numbers now on the rise in 10 states. Importantly, data from the UK indicates that vaccination continues to provide strong protection from hospitalization and death due to infection with the Delta variant. Thus vaccination remains our best defense.

In this regard, I’m pleased to report that 94% of our community has now received at least one vaccine dose and 90% is fully vaccinated. We continue to make progress toward 100% vaccination, and I urge everyone who has not yet done this to take a serious look and compare the risk of not being vaccinated to the risk of getting vaccinated for yourself, your loved ones, and your communities, and take advantage of the ongoing vaccinations in the Kellen BioLink on campus.

The elimination of many restrictions on campus due to the marked improvement in the pandemic, along with the fine spring/summer weather, has been palpable, with a distinctly elevated mood on campus, fueled by people seeing one another in person for the first time in 16 months. Every day feels like a family reunion. Yesterday I saw Alzatta Fogg outside the CRC; you may recall that we presented Alzatta with the David Rockefeller Award for Extraordinary Service at the virtual convocation in June 2020, but I had not seen her in person since the initial University closure in March 2020. It was emotional to be able to give her a hug and catch up. I suspect many of you are having similar experiences.

We have continued to increase activities on campus, reopening the gym and indoor dining at the Bass Dining Commons for those who have been vaccinated. I note that New York, having passed the threshold of 70% of adults with at least one vaccine dose, has also eliminated restrictions on most businesses and social gatherings, though masks remain a requirement on airplanes, buses, and trains, as well as in airports and stations. Some businesses and venues are also requiring masks for indoor activities. It is thrilling to be able to emerge from this long year of restrictions, but I encourage you to continue to use common-sense precautions such as wearing masks when in crowded environments that include people of unknown vaccine status.

We had a wonderful virtual convocation ceremony earlier this month in honor of our 33 new Ph.D. graduates, along with an in-person reception the evening before. Congratulations again to all graduates who achieved so much under particularly challenging circumstances. We also presented honorary degrees to two remarkable philanthropists in NYC, Trustee Emeritus Henry R. Kravis and Marie-Josée Kravis, and to iconic scientists and longtime members of the Committee on Scientific Affairs of the Board of Trustees, Tom Maniatis and Pippa Marrack. All provided terrific and thoughtful comments, and below is a quote from Tom’s that captures much of what makes the conduct of science so compelling:

“As you struggle to establish your scientific vision and you’re dealing with grant applications, competition, worrying about your students and postdocs, please step back frequently and reflect on why we do what we do. It’s not about careers, recognition, and status; it is fundamentally about the thrill of discovery, an addiction that is hardwired into our brain and has likely been part of our evolution. This has driven the pursuit of philosophy, science, and exploration since the origin of mankind.”

Discovering something new about how life works is an unending thrill, and the fact that these discoveries can simultaneously have implications for understanding, preventing, and treating disease is an immensely satisfying service to humanity.

On that note, I want to draw your attention to two new exhibits that have been installed this month on campus, both in the interest of highlighting and celebrating women scientists. The first, in Abby Lounge, is a spectacular installation dedicated to recognizing recipients of the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, an award established by the late Paul Greengard and named in honor of his mother, and given annually to one or more women scientists from throughout the world who have made seminal contributions to their fields. The panels of the exhibit are made from dichroic glass, which shifts colors depending on the angle of light, and mounted along the Abby’s wall of east-facing windows (see below photos). I encourage you to stop by at different times of day to appreciate its beauty in different lighting conditions and, of course, to pay tribute to the extraordinary laureates represented.

The second exhibit, on the first floor of the hospital, highlights the work of 11 female Rockefeller scientists of the last 120 years, starting with Alma E. Hiller, a biochemist who joined Rockefeller in 1918, and ending with Mary Jeanne Kreek, who passed away earlier this year after nearly 60 years at the University.

I’d also like to draw your attention to a new publication, authored by a number of our Rockefeller colleagues, describing a series of detailed experimental methods developed by rigorous trials. In this case, they are food recipes, and the publisher is Great Performances, our food services vendor. The downloadable Rockefeller University Pandemic Cookbook features 51 recipes submitted by members of the Rockefeller community who spent some of the year’s downtime in their kitchens. Check it out here!

Finally this week, I’d like to take a moment to note that June is Pride month and to stand in support of those members of our community who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or who identify as a sexual or gender minority. As we strive to build a more inclusive and diverse community, we recognize that sexual and gender minorities have historically been victims of conscious and unconscious bias across society, including in STEM. We join our LGBTQ+ community in recognizing and celebrating all forms of diversity.

With all best wishes for a healthy and fulfilling summer,


Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.
Carson Family Professor
Laboratory of Human Genetics and Genomics
The Rockefeller University


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