Heading to New Orleans in Seat 9C Featured

red ferrariThe ASCB meeting is a finely tuned machine.
Photo Credit: Peter Zoon
While December is a special time for many around the world, the month has added significance for cell biologists—it's the time of their main gathering, the ASCB Annual Meeting, which will start this year on Saturday in New Orleans! Right now I find myself taking part in this annual migration so while this crowded miniscule airplane makes its way towards the Gulf, let me pull in my elbows in Seat 9-C and put down a few notes on a very busy season—they must have designed these seats for morula-sized people, by the way.

Back in Bethesda, the National Office has been buzzing with activity for weeks and months until in the last few days the tension—the positive tension, that is—was palpable even in the hallways. The Annual Meeting is a complex machine with many moving parts, a twirling juggernaut that I only began to appreciate when I became Executive Director. So first and foremost, please join me in a BIG shout out to all the dedicated ASCB staff who will make this hugely complex machine perform seamlessly, at least for the ASCB member trooping from sessions to posters to Symposia to Keynotes to round-tables to the Exhibit Hall. Trina Armstrong, Alison Harris, and Shelley Renn, together with the rest of the ASCB staff, have been tuning the ASCB meeting machine to a Grand Prix standard and as the 2013 model comes roaring out of the pit, ASCB members and meeting attendees should be on their feet cheering!

We truly have a spectacular program this year, put together by our very own Arshad Desai with a top-flight Program Committee, and so a shout-out from Seat 9-C is in order! The program provides an effective and incredibly exciting vision for the future of cell biology. We're also opening an amazing and restocked toolbox to our members to help them re-engineer their professional and personal development.

Science meetings are about good talks, and the talking gets off to an outstanding start with the Keynote speakers on Saturday evening, Elaine Fuchs and Craig Venter. They will bring to the stage reports from two of the most innovative and exciting areas of cell biology. Fuchs will give us a front-line report from the stem cell revolution, which finally moved on from the policy morass to capture the unbelievable potential that can help bring basic science to the next level, and possibly make the difference for millions of patients around the world. Craig Venter will take us into the realm of digital life and synthetic biology. Venter, who has made a brilliant career out of challenging assumptions, comes to New Orleans to talk about the ultimate challenge for DNA/RNA biology— can we synthetically build a living cell from scratch? I devoured his latest book, Life at the Speed of Light, in a single sitting. (I guess I took the title kind of literally.) It is fantastic and it is that rare thing in biological literature—fun to read. Seat 9-C has a tip for "Activation Energy" readers—Head for the ASCB booth in the Exhibit Hall on Sunday at 11:00 am to meet Craig and get him to autograph your copy of his book.

Seat 9-C just realized that there is not enough room to do justice here to the line-up of thought leaders who will be in the Crescent City for ASCB. I will mention only a few. I can hardly contain my excitement when I think of Randy Schekman and Jim Rothman, who I now envision in their spiffy penguin suits in Stockholm, boarding a flight directly from Sweden, with the Nobel medals in their pockets. (Wait—how do you transport a gold Nobel medal on an airplane? In your pocket? In the bins? I will ask them.) Alas, their flight schedules and connections will not take them non-stop from Stockholm to the Big Easy, but the two laureates were insistent that ASCB, their scientific home community, would be their first scientific stop after Nobel Week. I confess that the thought of Monday—Nobel Night at ASCB—gives me goose bumps! I was tempted to ask them to deliver their presentation in penguin suits—I have let that thought go....

For the Executive Director, the Annual Meeting is less like a Grand Prix than a foot race, a marathon of meetings and greetings. Still your correspondent in Seat 9-C vows to scavenge time for tweeting and perhaps a micro-blog or two as the Annual Meeting rolls out.

I wish that all "Activation Energy" readers could be in NOLA with us. For those of you at home or in your lab or trapped in a different seat 9-C going someplace else, we vow to keep you posted on what you're missing at ASCB 2013. (Are you sure you can't change plans and hop on a plane for NOLA now?) Follow us on Twitter (the hash tag is #ASCB2013) or on the ASCB homepage where the "Live from ASCB" reports, images, and videos from New Orleans will start on Saturday. And that's just the start. Let me... Oh, Seat 9-C has just been told to turn off all laptops and electronic devices and stow them as we make our descent towards the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. City of jazz, city of jazzy food, and for the next few days, the city of cell biology. Yes, yes, I'm turning it off....

Stefano Bertuzzi

Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi is the Executive Director of the American Society for Cell Biology. In this position he is responsible, with the ASCB Board, for strategic planning and all operations at the Society to serve the needs of its ~9,000 members and to promote the field of cellular biology and basic science.

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