Celebrating the Life of Dr. Sydney Brenner
Dr. Sydney Brenner brought into reality the vision to create a world-class, global research institute situated on an idyllic semitropical island.
The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), the Okinawan community and special guests gathered to honor Brenner’s role in creating the OIST we know today. Brenner passed away on April 5, 2019.
The memorial ceremony opened with a beautiful rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major followed by opening remarks from OIST President and CEO Dr. Peter Gruss. Gruss first met Sydney in Germany in the 1980s and then published an important paper with him on the Pax6 gene.
“It was just like Sydney to put his name to OIST when it was only an idea. He showed that OIST could be best in the world from the start,” Gruss said as he introduced Brenner and his life achievements. “He established the resources and attracted the scientific innovators and pioneers who set the standards for what OIST is today.”
Gruss’s remarks were followed by several memorial speakers, including members of the Okinawan and Japanese governments who joined to commemorate the impact Brenner made.
OIST Board of Governors member Mr. Koji Omi, who was the driving force behind the conceptualization of OIST, in his speech referred to Dr. Brenner’s Japanese poetry, a haiku he composed in 2002, to demonstrate Brenner’s confidence in OIST’s success from the beginning of the project: “In Okinawa, we see the dawn of a new university.”
Representatives for Mr. Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, the Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, and for Mr. Denny Tamaki, the Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, gave speeches thanking Brenner for his contribution to the community.
Miyakoshi honored Brenner in his message, which focused on his work with the Japanese government. “Many talented researchers sympathized with Dr. Brenner’s philosophy, passion and personality and came to Okinawa from all over the world,” Miyakoshi said. “The foundation of OIST today is exactly what was built by Dr. Brenner. It was really fortunate for not only OIST, but also Okinawa and Japan that we were able to have an outstanding person like Dr. Brenner at the time of OIST’s foundation.”
Soon after, a representative for Tamaki expressed the impact of Brenner.
“Dr. Brenner had great influence on the promotion of science and technology in Okinawa. The establishment of today’s bioscience research foundation in Okinawa, which has enhanced the quality of genetics research facilities and personnel, proves the great value of his efforts,” Tamaki wrote.
A close colleague, and more importantly a friend for 54 years, Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt gave a heartfelt speech. His speech was followed by OIST Executive VP for Technology Development and Innovation and Vice CEO, Dr. Robert Baughman. Baughman worked with Brenner in the early stages of creating OIST.
Afterward, two more speeches were given by Molecular Genetics Unit Leader Professor Daniel Rokhsar and Chair of the OIST Board of Governors Dr. Cherry Murray.
The ceremony ended with the renaming of a widely used lecture hall from B250 to the Sydney Brenner Lecture Theater. The naming of the hall signifies the roots of Brenner’s contribution to innovation and education at OIST.
Beautiful music filled the room as the OIST and Okinawan community honored the passing of not only an important figure to the room, but to the world. Brenner was the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, he aided in establishing research institutions including the Molecular Sciences Institute in California and he was the director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. As president of the OIST Promotion Corporation from 2005 to 2011, Dr. Brenner created the path to the establishment of OIST with his strong leadership.