In 2010, pioneering canopy ecologist Margaret Dalzell Lowman was recruited to oversee an innovative new Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. That same year, she served as a juror for the Rolex Awards Young Laureates Programme.

Lowman immediately saw a connection between her mission as director of the new Center and that of the Young Laureates Programme, and decided to use the Center’s grand opening, held on April 20, to showcase the Young Laureates and their work.

“Serving on the Rolex jury was very inspirational and reminded me that there are so many diverse ways to make a difference”, said Lowman. The Nature Research Center is about “taking museums from ‘what we know’… to ‘how we know’, which is the hands-on, let kids get their feet muddy and experience how science works. I’m very passionate about that.

“I think Rolex embodies that in a lot of ways with their awards by saying people who make a difference are the ones out there on the cutting edge of change.”

Laureates Jacob Colker, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, and Bruktawit Tigabu traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina for a week of events tied to the opening. They stopped by local schools to share their experiences; networked with possible funders and others interested in their work; and toured some of the state’s richly biodiverse locales.

Their week concluded with the 24-hour grand opening of the Center, when 70,000 visitors saw for the first time the Center’s interactive science and technology exhibits, investigative laboratories and research collections, and connected with scientists from around the world via a multi-media theatre.

Fernandez-Ruiz, who won a Rolex Award for Rags2Riches, an eco-ethical accessories company in the Philippines, agrees with Lowman that the Center’s focus on participation and outreach is in keeping with her own world view.

“We don’t live in a vacuum and I think being here for the opening is representative of that,” she said. “It’s just such a strong message of community.”

Also present at the opening was Kanwaljit Soin, a Rolex Awards jury member in 2004, and one of Singapore’s most respected orthopaedic and hand surgeons as well as a long-time advocate for women and the disadvantaged. “So much great technology isn’t in place because the public doesn’t understand the science behind it and how it could improve our lives.”

“Perhaps the Young Laureates can do their part to change that. I think it will spur young people to think about science and technology when they hear their stories,” she said.

This is exactly what Lowman had in mind. Bringing the Laureates to Raleigh, she said, would “allow these amazing young people to be an inspiration”.

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