Prof. Harold E. Varmus, Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, recently visited the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, upon initiative of 2018 Lindau Alumna Nataly Naser AL Deen. In this guest article, she recaps the visit.

If you have heard from previous alumni that attending the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a dream come true, I would like to share with you how I have recently re-lived my Lindau dream! Looking back: Eight months ago, in June

2018, as we were having lunch with our hero laureate of choice on the beautiful Lindau island, Prof. Harold E. Varmus expressed interest in visiting my home institution, the American University of Beirut. As soon as I returned back to the Insellhalle, I emailed our biology department’s chairperson and our faculty’s dean, and everyone at AUB was thrilled to hear the news, and got onboard (specifically the Biology Department, The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Faculty of Medicine, and the Biology Student Society). 

My journey in organizing and planning Prof. Varmus’s visit to AUB and Lebanon was one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced. Prof. Varmus visited Lebanon from February 13th-18th, and his visit resonated all across our AUB campus. Hundreds of undergraduates, graduates and faculty members met Prof. Varmus, attended two very enriching world-class lectures, and even got the chance to present their research projects and get advice and comments from him. Prof. Varmus’s visit included two full academic days as well as sight-seeing visits around Lebanon. 

Sightseeing in Bekka Valley with Nataly Nasr Al Deen, Harold Varmus, Rihab Nar and Rabih Talhouk. Photo courtesey of Nataly Naser Al Deen.

Prof. Varmus arrived on the 124 February (Valentine’s Day), which happened to be a national holiday in Lebanon, so we ceased the opportunity to drive him over the snowy Lebanese Mountains and into the Bekaa valley, where we toured in my hometown, Baalbeck, the biggest Roman ruins city in Lebanon. Prof. Varmus enjoyed this very rich archeological and historical site, which was another area of expertise of his (amongst the many other areas!) 

The next day was an academic day, where Prof. Varmus shared with the undergraduate science and pre-medical students at AUB, a lecture on the nine “Axioms for a successful career in science”, which was then followed by an open exchange session, where the students got to ask Prof. Varmus a multitude of career advice questions, and some shared with him their feeling of relief after they heard his talk. This was followed by departmental visits, several meetings with the Biology, Chemistry and Biomedical graduate students and faculty. The day ended with a guided visit to our campus’s 150-year-old archeological museum, which was in deed Prof. Varmus’s favorite part about AUB (along with AUB’s history with his alma mater Amherst College, the alma mater of our founder Daniel Bliss and his close friend our late president, Dr. Calvin Plimpton.) 

Harold Varmus and Nataly Nasr Al Deen in AUB's archaeolgical museum with the museum's director Leila Badre and AUB Ph.D. students. Photo courtesey of Nataly Naser Al Deen.

As for the weekend, Prof. Varmus’s schedule included a visit to Byblos Sea Castle and old city in the North of Lebanon and to Beaufort Castle, a Crusader fortress in the South of Lebanon, and to the National Museum and the modern art museum in Beirut. Prof. Varmus kept on amazing us with his deep knowledge and interest in archeology, history, politics, literature, and of course science! On Monday, Prof. Varmus gave a very insightful and educational scientific lecture to the medical and scientific community at AUB (students, graduates, medical doctors and faculty members) on his scientific discoveries, the basis of cancer, and an overview on the current scientific projects that are being undertaken at his laboratory at Weill Cornell. The lecture was followed by a graduate students’ seminar series, meetings with oncologists, cancer researchers, and the deans and chairpersons of the medical school. 

Prof. Varmus’s visit was full of science, culture, history and exchange. As our honorable President referred to it in his “President’s Perspective”, Prof. Varmus’s visit to AUB will go into our university’s history, where he described it as “an experience for hundreds of us that will live on in the annals of AUB”. 

We are very thankful to Prof. Varmus for visiting AUB and Lebanon and I am forever grateful for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting for granting me this magical opportunity, and I hope that every Lindau alum (and future Lindau participant) will get to live and re-live the Lindau dream!

A group photo with AUB biology and pre-med undergratuate students on Friday. Photo courtesey of Nataly Naser Al Deen.

Learn more about Lindau Alumna Nataly Nasr Al Deen and her research in this interview.

Other news