Science for all: Latest class of Geniuses at Liberty Science Center are true inspirations

Kritcher, Schiff and Graves are using talents to enhance world in many ways

Andrea Kritcher, Nicholas Schiff and Joseph Graves — this year’s honorees at the prestigious Genius Gala at Liberty Science Center — were recognized Monday night for their leadership and vision within their respective scientific fields and how their research has inspired world-changing innovations.

And, in the case of Graves, taking the extra step to ensure the world of science is as welcoming as it could — and should — be.

LSC CEO Paul Hoffman saluted that fact to the more than 650 guests at the annual fundraiser in Jersey City.

“Dr. Graves is the first African American to get a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and who is now is a professor,” Hoffman said. “He has five Black women in his research group have Ph.D.s — which is more than any other university has produced in five decades.

“He is not only an incredible scientist, but he is someone who is making sure that we are getting more Black men and women into the sciences.”

While impressive and humbling to hear of the breakthroughs made by the trio, equally as impressive was the fact that Hoffman believes that every person who walks through the doors at LSC has the potential to flourish and innovate.

“To have these honorees here is completely inspiring,” Hoffman said. “This year’s class of Genius awardees is a true testament to what this honor seeks to convey. Through faith in their convictions, this group stood in the face of what appeared to be unbeatable odds to succeed and enlighten our world.

“Their breakthroughs and courage to go against the grain of what was expected of them sets them in a class of their own and lays the foundation for future generations of geniuses to build on what they have started.”

Hoffman himself is an inspiring man. He is the driving force behind SciTech Scity, the 30-acre innovation campus that is coming to LSC. He has authored over 11 books, was the president and editor in chief of Discover magazine, president and publisher of Encyclopedia Britannica and the editorial chairman of

And, he has the admiration of Gov. Phil Murphy, who called him the smartest man on the planet.

“We are not only coming together to embrace that classic Jersey spirit of ingenuity and invention, but we are also coming together to honor a group of trailblazers who are pushing the boundaries of science and technology, and who can change our world for the better,” Murphy said.

Other distinguished presenters of the evening included Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and biotech innovator and 2019 Genius Award recipient Martine Rothblatt. Additionally, William Shatner, although not present, had a powerful video message and was awarded LSC’s 2024 Icon Award. And a generous donation by Ralph and Karen Izzo was announced that will create a new exhibit that will help fight climate change.

The Genius Gala serves as the LSC’s chief fundraising event. Since its inception, the Genius Gala has raised approximately $25 million to benefit LSC’s science, technology, engineering and math education programs, helping to make world-class STEM learning accessible to students, teachers and families, especially those in high-needs communities. Monday’s event raised an estimated $3 million.

As a special treat, attendees enjoyed a musical performance by the award-winning PS22 Chorus of Staten Island. Formed in 2000, the choral group of 85 fourth- and fifth-grade students has been an internet sensation for years, racking up hundreds of millions of views for its videos on social media. The group has been featured on “Nightline,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The View,” “Sesame Street” and the 2011 Academy Awards. Not part of a school for the arts, the PS 22 Chorus features a multicultural group of ordinary children achieving extraordinary accomplishments.

More about the 2024 Genius awardees:

  • Kritcher: She is the engineering design lead at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She and her team achieved the “Holy Grail” of nuclear fusion — a clean source of potentially limitless energy — by creating the first controlled fusion ignition that produced more energy than the experiment consumed. Repeating the feat three additional times in 2023, and at least once more since then, Kritcher’s insights led to a monumental breakthrough that could profoundly impact the world’s energy production for generations.
  • Schiff: An expert on neurological disorders of consciousness, he led a pioneering experiment in which five people who had debilitating brain injuries were able to achieve improved cognitive function after receiving electrode implants that stimulated an almond-size structure deep within their brains. Through their work with implanted electrodes, a kind of pacemaker for the brain, Schiff and his team have brought potentially the first effective therapy for chronic brain injuries.
  • Graves: A New Jersey native, he does pioneering work in the genetics of aging and the use of metals and nanomaterials to defeat harmful bacteria. The first African American to receive a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology, Graves has drawn on his background in evolutionary biology and genetics to dispel misconceptions about biology and race, a topic on which he has written five books. He has accomplished all this after overcoming being mislabeled with learning difficulties in childhood.