The inspiration behind the hit biopic “Hidden Figures,” Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, was one of the four honorees of the Genius Gala 6.0 at the Liberty Science Center last week.
The annual event recognizes some of the greatest science minds, and this year’s event was attended by 700 of the area’s “Who’s Who” of the science, technology, finance and innovation industries.
The black-tie event raised $2.7 million to support the Center in Jersey City, which has grown attendance by 224,000 to more than 650,000 in four years — making it the fastest-growing museum in the country, according to LSC CEO and President Paul Hoffman.
Johnson was unable to attend the event, but her daughter, Joylette Hylick, accepted the award on her behalf in an emotional speech.
“I’ll to try and do this without crying,” she said. “I saw this facility. I just wish my mother were 40 years younger. You wouldn’t be able to get her out of here. She loves experiments, she loves teaching and she would always say, ‘What did you learn today, Joylette?’”
Hylick said she has asked her mother if she realized how important her role at NASA in the 1960s was. Her mother remains humble, despite the recent fame from the movie.
“My mother is an ordinary, extraordinary person,” she said. “To say that she didn’t feel segregation, I’d say that brilliance trumps segregation.”
In stark contrast, the next award winner of the evening was a robot. Specifically, SpotMini from Boston Dynamics, which was honored along with the company’s founder and CEO, Marc Raibert.
The canine-like robot, SpotMini, walked onto the stage to receive its award, engaging the audience along the way.
Next up was Raibert, who said he was raised in New Jersey, and told the crowd that, while the Liberty Science Center wasn’t around when he was younger, the Boston Museum of Science was and served as his inspiration.
When asked by Hoffman when robots like SpotMini will become a part of our everyday lives, Raibert said he couldn’t predict.
The final honoree of the evening was Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google and co-founder and chancellor of Singularity University.
Kurzweil, a New Yorker, was inspired to get into the computer field when his uncle, an employee of Bell Labs, introduced him to computer science.
The presenters of each award were some of New Jersey’s highest-profile individuals, including Olympic gold medal wrestler Helen Maroulis, a Jersey City resident, and “Cake Boss” star Buddy Valastro, who uncovered a robot cake after presenting the award to Raibert.
Other entertainers of the evening included New Jersey pizza-tossing “Pizza Boys” Nicholas and Michael Testa, ages 12 and 10, respectively, from Jersey City, and Marco Tempest, a cyber-illusionist.
“It was truly an honor to bestow these brilliant men, women — and, for the first time, a robot — with the 2017 Genius Award,” Hoffman said.