An Interview with Dr. Bessette
by Liz Lonergan
Each month the Innovation e-Review will conduct an interview with a newsmaker of note. Russell W. Bessette, M.D., the Executive Director ot the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR), graciously accepted our invitation for an interview. Dr. Bessette spent some time answering questions posed by Liz Lonergan, Executive Director of the New York State Science & Technology Law Center. The interview covers a wide range of topics, including discussion of scientific breakthroughs, Governor Pataki’s efforts to support research and development, who Dr. Bessette thinks will win the Superbowl and what Dr. Bessette enjoys doing in his spare time.
Q&A with Dr. Bessette:
What is the most interesting scientific development you have seen in your lifetime?
The Apollo Space Program, which placed men on the moon, because it required the coordination of basic science and engineering to propel mankind to the next frontier – exploration of worlds beyond our own.
What future scientific breakthrough do you feel will be of the greatest importance to healthcare?
Because of breakthroughs in the human genome, the ability to design drugs which will be targeted to specific cellular sites and to repair or prevent their injury. Coupled with discoveries in nano-technology, these medications will be delivered in a manner reminiscent of the movie Fantastic Voyage, and will eliminate the consequences of chronic illness and radical surgery.
What future scientific breakthrough do you feel will be of the greatest importance to computers?
Breakthroughs in quantum mechanics will permit construction of computers at the molecular level and will increase computational power geometrically. The end result will be computers that understand the spoken word. As a result, artificial intelligence will improve and information management will be simplified, thereby permitting computers to work in partnerships with people rather than serve primarily as passive storage devices. Simultaneous breakthroughs in photonic research will permit broad bandwidth transmission of information linking people worldwide with holographic displays. The end result will be the ability to talk to your computer and have it display a three dimensional image on your desk.
How important is research and development to fostering a high technology economy?
It is crucial. A high-technology economy is based upon discovery, which in turn drives progress. Basic scientists unravel the fundamental mysteries of scientific theory, while applied researchers use these discoveries to solve real world problems. Together their efforts create new products, which fuel the formation of companies and jobs.
NYSTAR has already seen many great successes. How is the state’s economy shaping up as a result of the Governor’s and the Legislature’s unprecedented investments?
In his annual State of the State message, Governor Pataki announced that ASML Holding NV and IBM Corporation would create a $400 million nanochip research and development facility at the Albany Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics, ASML’s first R&D center outside Europe.
Meanwhile, IBM — along with six global giants that include Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, Infineon, AMD, and Charter — will invest $1.9 billion on nanoelectronics manufacturing in East Fishkill.
In addition, IBM and a group of the largest equipment suppliers in nanoelectronics that includes TEL and Applied Materials intend to invest $450 million to expand the research and development capabilities of the Albany Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics, a shining example of the value of developing a high tech economy.
Individually, these are monumental announcements. Together they are unprecedented.
If you weren’t the Executive Director of NYSTAR, what would you be doing?
My primary love was and still is medicine. Throughout history physicians searched for cures to disease, their investigations required both discovery and application. My career in surgery, combined with research as a clinical director for a New York State CAT, gave me the opportunity to impact health in single patients as well as improve public health. But, thanks to Governor Pataki’s confidence in me, and the State legislature’s investment in NYSTAR, together we have had the opportunity to significantly improve research, discovery, economic development, and public health across the State.
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
A week on any Caribbean island is perfect.
Why do you love New York?
Because of its place in history, four beautiful seasons, varied geography across the State, and the diversity and initiative of its population. New York has been the birthplace for discovery in both science and art. Today our colleges and universities still educate a significant portion of the leaders in science, economics and the arts. This historic foundation coupled with its ambiance, ranging from the excitement of New York City to a quiet pasture along the Erie Canal, makes this state an ideal place to live.
What would be a perfect day for you?
The day would begin by waking up and finding everyone I know in good health. The morning would include the opportunity to work on some new science project, while the afternoon would see a chance to encourage a young person’s career in medicine or science. The day would end with a great dinner in a quiet restaurant with family and one or two friends and then the chance to read a few pages of a novel before bed.
What quote or motto has inspired you throughout your life?
The line from Abraham Lincoln, “If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said.”
What artist or artistic event would you wait in line to see?
The opening of a movie by Ron Howard or George Lucas, especially if I had the opportunity to talk with them about making their film, would be most exciting.
What person from history would you most like to have lunch with?
There are many, but perhaps today, William B. Shockley, who invented the transistor. To interact with someone, who stimulated the invention, development, and entrepreneurship of the transistor revolution, and to probe the factors which led to a less than ideal ending to his career, would be most illuminating.
What do you do when you have downtime?
I love to read current best-selling novels as well as nonfiction history in science and medicine. I enjoy trying my hand at writing novel thrillers, and playing golf with very select friends, since I’m such a poor golfer.
Coke or Pepsi?
Coke because it was first, and though Pepsi is good, I believe originality should be supported.
Red Sox or Yankees?
Yankees, because they are New York.