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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

SDBRI Seminar Series welcomes Sir Dermot Turing to La Jolla

The San Diego Biomedical Research Institute has initiated a Collaboration and Communication Seminar Series as a vehicle to bring together colleagues and supporters in the Torrey Pines research community.  The idea holds great promise for connecting people with common interests in this hotbed of AIRI institutes, local universities, and vibrant pharmaceutical firms.  The challenge for San Diego Biomedical Research Institute will be identifying topics of broad interest presented by compelling presenters.  San Diego Biomedical Research Institute excelled at both with their first seminar!

Millions of people are now familiar with the 2014 Oscar-winning biopic, The Imitation Game, the movie about Dr. Alan Turing (1912 – 1954), the English mathematician who played a key role in deciphering Germany’s top-secret coded-message device, “Enigma,” during World War II. This effort is credited with shortening the War by as many as two to four years and saving millions of lives. He is often credited as the founder of digital computing, but Alan Turing’s life and influence on science and philosophy went far beyond the story told in the movie.

San Diego Biomedical Research Institute's inaugural seminar provided a unique view of Alan Turing’s life and accomplishments presented by someone with first-hand knowledge about the scientist – Sir Dermot Turing, Alan Turing’s nephew.  Sir Dermot Turing is a Trustee of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire (UK) and author of "Prof: Alan Turing Decoded," a biography of his famous uncle. Like his uncle, Sir Dermot was educated at Sherborne and King’s College, Cambridge University. After completing his D.Phil. (PhD) in Genetics at Oxford University, Sir Dermot moved into the legal profession, working first for Her Majesty's Treasury Solicitor’s Department. His current avocation is historical research and writing.

On Thursday, October 27, Sir Dermot and San Diego Biomedical Research Institute hosted a screening of The Imitation Game.  The movie was followed by a discussion and question/answer session; led by Sir Dermot and Joanna Davies, D.Phil., the institute's President and CEO; that people found very engaging and informative.

San Diego Biomedical Research Institute's seminar, again featuring Sir Dermot Turing, was held the next day at the Auditorium at TSRI.  Sir Dermot was introduced by Dr. Davies, who was a fellow student with him at Oxford. Using historical documents, hand-written notes, illustrations, and years of research, Sir Dermot described Alan Turing’s achievements in a wide range of fields: pure mathematics, philosophy, cryptology, computer science, artificial intelligence, and developmental biology, bringing this astonishing CV to life for the audience.  Sir Dermot also addressed the popular notion that Alan Turing had a reputation of being solitary, difficult to deal with, and lacking in communication skills, by presenting accounts of his personal life and relationships that challenge these perceptions.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the Alan Turing story is how his legacy of accomplishment was kept secret by the British Government for so much of his life.

The audience responded with thoughtful questions designed to learn more about the science and the personal life of such an amazing man.  So engaged was the discussion that time expired before all questions could be answered. The seminar was followed by a luncheon at San Diego Biomedical Research Institute to give those in the research community the chance for one-to-one discussions with Sir Dermot. He also had the opportunity to meet and congratulate the first recipient of UC San Diego's Alan Turing Memorial Scholarship given by the university's Center for Networked Systems.

I’m very grateful to San Diego Biomedical Research Institute for bringing our community together in this way, and I am looking forward to the next installment in the Collaboration and Communication Seminar Series.