Adam Bly is the founder and editor-in-chief of Seed Magazine and the Chairman/CEO of Seed Media Group. Seed is a bi-monthly science magazine based out of New York and is distributed internationally. The magazine looks at issues located at the intersection of science and society. In 2007, Seed was nominated for two National Magazine Awards.
At 16, Bly was the youngest researcher at the National Research Council of Cancer, where he spent three years studying cell adhesion and cancer. Bly has received many international prizes, including being selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2007, and has also received the Jubilee Medal. Bly lives in New York City.
Question: What was your first experiment?
Adam Bly: The one that was probably most memorable – this was probably one of the first experiments – was . . . was a little bit later in life. It was starting when I was, I don’t know, 13, 14. And I was . . . This was for a science fair project, and I was a total science fair nerd growing up, and did science fairs every year and loved it. And I . . . I was researching this . . . this drug called Melatonin, and I was kind of interested in its properties in terms of affecting the circadian rhythms and pineal gland of these unicellular organisms called rotifers. So rotifers are basically like these black globs that grow in swamps. And so I decided to take this room off of our kitchen and turn it into my lab – not to everyone’s great pleasure in my house – and had these Petri dishes set up with different rotifers. And I would put different amounts of Melatonin and different amount of the chemicals. And so it created this little kind of lab set up with a microscope, and it was one of the first science fair projects – turning the kitchen into a microbiology lab.
I always knew I wanted to be in science. I think from an early age, from probably 13, 14; from just kind of fooling around in the backyard and, you know, causing things to blow up or to caught . . . catch on fire; to look at something under a microscope or look at something under a magnifying glass. Just kind of seeing, watching, looking at ants. That was highly pleasurable. Lifting up this rock we had. There was always just a ton of ants – and seeing how they moved around and kind of build a little community down there. It always fascinated me. I loved looking at pictures of science, and it was as much the kind of aesthetics of science that appealed to me as anything else. I’ve always been fascinated by how science looks, the architecture and design of science as much as the more philosophical ideas in science. In fact it was an image of a protein that was done . . . So an x-ray crystallography. So basically looking at the structure of a protein – of this particular protein that’s responsible for how our cells adhere to one another. And it turned out that this molecule looks like a zipper – a zipper in between our cells, sort of a molecular zipper. And we’re seeing an image . . . an x-ray crystallography image of that protein complex that got me on a path for a few years of doing biochemical research and cancer research. It was an image. It was sort of the architecture of this protein that was just so compelling and overwhelmingly satisfying in kind of a visceral, kind of romantic way, and an aesthetic way that led me to then try and understand it further and in a more deeply biochemical way. So it’s always been as much the language, and aesthetics, and culture of science as it has been the actual scientific ideas themselves that have excited me.
Recorded on: 10/17/07