An Inspiring Issue

Time for a glass of bubbly — we’re thrilled to uncork two of our most anticipated features: our cover story on Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Richard Axel ’67, and a special feature, the Lion’s Pride Honors, spotlighting notable young alumni.

a woman in a black top

Jörg Meyer

Typically, as a quarterly, we start working on big articles six or seven months before they reach your mailbox. But we first broached the idea of sitting down with Axel, who rarely gives interviews, a year ago. We were delighted when he said yes — and granted our writer Matthew Hutson a lab tour, to boot. While many readers might know Axel for his breakthrough work mapping the genes that are responsible for our sense of smell, he truly is a scientist who defies categorization. The resulting article is an eye-opening portrait of a man who has made a career of bridging disciplines and pushing boundaries. And he’s raising the next generation of scientists to do the same.

Lion’s Pride, meanwhile, began a full 18 months ago, when we embarked on a new partnership with Columbia College Young Alumni. Because it was a first, there was no road map to follow — just the shared wish to celebrate some of our most compelling recent graduates. We worked up timelines, designed a logo, launched our nominations campaign. The suggestions we received were read and reread, and tough decisions were made. Then came the interviewing, writing, editing, art.

But in reflecting on all that went into Lion’s Pride, what made the greatest impression was the experience of speaking with the honorees themselves. Their personalities came through in a flash; some gushed, others were reserved. But all were articulate, passionate and purposeful, ambitious in their vision and humble in their accomplishments. They spoke thoughtfully about how their time at the College had influenced them personally and in their careers. They aspired to make a difference in their industries, their communities and the world. (Let’s not kid; they already are.)

The Lion’s Priders also got me thinking about what it means to live your dreams and to make a meaningful life for yourself. And they reminded me of one of the reasons I became a writer and editor — because I believe in the power of story to inspire, and they left me feeling exactly that.

I hope they do the same for you.

Elsewhere in the magazine you’ll find alumni who are at the forefront of current news and culture. We have a timely Q&A with Jonathan Ryan ’00, executive director of RAICES, a nonprofit providing free or low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees; a profile of Moira Demos ’96, SOA’08, who has returned to Manitowoc County, Wis., with Part 2 of her hit Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer; and an excerpt from Crystal Hana Kim ’09’s much-heralded debut novel, If You Leave Me.

Finally, why have one Nobel winner when you can have two?

an elderly man with a white beard

Arthur Ashkin ’47

In October, Arthur Ashkin ’47 was named one of three winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, making him, at 96, the oldest person ever named a Nobel laureate. The trio was honored for their groundbreaking research in laser physics, and Ashkin in particular for his invention of “optical tweezers.” The breakthrough allowed scientists to use pressure from light to manipulate tiny organisms without damaging them — “an old dream of science fiction,” as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its announcement.

Ashkin graciously welcomed us into his home in Rumson, N.J., for a photo shoot for The Big Picture. Though he retired from a 40-year career at the renowned Bell Labs in 1992, he continues to work in his home office. He holds 47 patents. He has plans for another.

Talk about an inspiration.

(signed) Alexis Boncy
Alexis Boncy SOA’11