David J. Skorton, the secretary of the Smithsonian, will deliver the Eric Shullman Distinguished Public Lecture at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute on May 18. His presentation, entitled, The Power of Integration in the Biomedical Science and Beyond: Using All Spheres of Knowledge to Solve Our Most Challenging Problems, will begin at 5:30 p.m.
“The days of science being an isolated endeavor cut off from the outside world or other disciplines are pretty much a thing of the past,” Skorton said recently at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. “To do our jobs to the best of our abilities, scientists and researchers need to be able to make it clear why the work they do matters. The stakes are higher than ever, and we need to advocate for our work and for science as a whole.”
With increasingly complex problems set before society, we need more than science to offer solutions, according to Skorton. The key is integrating science into other disciplines, especially in the arts and humanities.
“A life in science has taught me that science will not be enough to solve the world’s thorniest challenges,” Skorton said at a recent talk at the University of Iowa, where he served as president from 2003 to 2006. “For that we need the broad and deep value of the liberal arts for two overriding reasons: They hold inherent value as the best way to understand ourselves, our world, and what it means to be fully humans; and they provide practical contributions for solving our most difficult and persistent problems. ”
Skorton, a board-certified cardiologist and a jazz musician, says perspectives and expertise from seemingly opposing fields of interest are needed to solve the complex problems in today’s world.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Skorton visit Roanoke. He is truly a multi-talented person who has made enormous contributions on many fronts, including medicine, science, the arts, policy, and leadership at the highest levels,” said Michael J. Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “His presentation topic is particularly propitious as we embark on an expanded growth in the health sciences that incorporates the sciences, arts, computation, and policy here at VTC. I can’t think of a better person to discuss the importance of how to develop and successfully manage such an enterprise.”
Skorton has served as the secretary of the Smithsonian since 2015, and he is the first physician to hold the position. He oversees 19 museums and galleries, 20 libraries, the National Zoo, and several research centers, including the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
Prior to joining the Smithsonian, Skorton was the president of Cornell University. He also served as a professor in the departments of medicine and pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and in Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering, with a research focus on congenital heart disease, cardiac imaging, and image processing. Before joining Cornell, Skorton served as a member of faculty at the University of Iowa for 26 years.
In 2009, Skorton was named the Master of the American College of Cardiology. The following year, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine. In 2011, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Skorton has received honorary degrees from American University, Fordham University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and the University of Rochester.
Skorton received his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1970 and his medical degree in 1974, both from Northwestern University. He completed his medical residency and fellowship in cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1979.