La Jolla’s Scripps Research returns to in-person lectures to offer Front Row view of scientific studies

The Scripps Research Front Row lecture series will return in person next month in La Jolla.
(Scripps Research)

Free monthly series for the public will kick off Aug. 23 and include a short reception following the one-hour presentations.


With an eye on making science up close and accessible to all, Scripps Research in La Jolla will launch its next series of Front Row lectures with a return to in-person programming.

The series has been held exclusively online the past three years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The free monthly series will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesdays beginning with “Transforming Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder” on Aug. 23. Scripps Research professor Barbara Mason will share her team’s work on the neurocircuitry involved in AUD and development of new medicines that could curb alcohol intake.

Guests will be invited to a short reception following the one-hour lectures at the Scripps Research Auditorium, 10620 John Jay Hopkins Drive.

The lectures still will include a virtual option for those who prefer to stay online.

Later topics will include “Reimagining the Chemistry of Life to Address Climate Change” with Ahmed Badran on Sept. 13, “Preventing Heart Disease With Machine Learning and Smartphone Technology” with Ali Torkamani on Oct. 25 and “Editing Genes to Tackle Neurological Conditions” with Xin Jin on Nov. 29.

The series topics are planned to showcase a range of research conducted by Scripps scientists, said Front Row host and moderator Jamie Williamson, a Scripps professor in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology.

“There’s all kinds of great stuff going on here,” he said. “We really try to pick a selection of various topics that we think are going to resonate with the public,” from heart disease and cancer to genomics and COVID.

The series also makes sure to include a “diverse representation of the faculty,” Williamson said. “We just try to mix it up.”

Scripps Research professor and Front Row lecture series host and moderator Jamie Williamson
Scripps Research professor and Front Row host and moderator Jamie Williamson says the lecture series is planned to cover a variety of topics.
(Scripps Research)

Though going online the past three years has expanded the Front Row audience to several hundred or even 2,000 viewers at its virtual peak (the auditorium’s capacity is up to about 200), returning to in-person lectures gives guests an up-close look at the Scripps Research campus.

It also presents more opportunities for follow-up discussions, Williamson said.

“One of the great things is engaging the audience,” he said, since there is rarely time to answer many audience questions with the one-hour online limit. In person, people can approach the scientists during the courtyard reception after the program.

“We’re really trying to … make this a safe space to just learn,” Williamson said.

Williamson has hosted the Front Row series the past six years, starting when it evolved from its original iteration as the Faculty Lecture series.

The Faculty Lecture version was a “big deal” even when he arrived at Scripps 25 years ago, Williamson said, but it was an internal event for senior faculty members to give their career overviews.

When Anna-Marie Rooney took on the role of Scripps vice president of marketing and communications in 2017, she redirected the lecture series to be more outward-facing to publicize the institution’s mission, Williamson said.

The series, renamed Front Row, “really took off,” he said.

Front Row lectures help to “humanize scientists,” he said. Speakers offer autobiographical information to orient the audience to their backgrounds and experiences.

Another benefit of a publicly accessible series is that “we have more ideas than we can possibly do,” Williamson said. “And so we want to get the word out that there’s great research going on at Scripps Research. … Come and learn something and meet a brilliant scientist.”

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