Meet the Team: Steve Hsu

This month we feature Steve Hsu, a research scientist with a medical background who recently joined our team.

BMSIS: Please tell us a little about yourself.

Steve: I was born in 1963 in Taiwan, where I was raised by my paternal grandparents, who were the first western-trained doctor and nurse in my family. Growing up watching my grandfather mixing medications in his own formulary and the antiseptic smell of the clinic are vivid memories. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered that my grandfather learned medicine from studying German textbooks. When the Nationalists established their new government in Taiwan after losing the war to the Communists, he was a young doctor with three children. In that era of martial law and a kind of blind paranoia, he made the mistake of asking if native Taiwanese might be allowed to participate in local governance, as he had been a leader in his community. He was accused of being a communist sympathizer, arrested without the benefit of a trial, and spent the next 25 years of his life as a political prisoner on a penal colony off the eastern coast of Taiwan, where he took care of his fellow inmates. Ironically, my maternal grandfather was a general for the Nationalist party who led the last half a million troops off the mainland during the war. Although I grew up in the US from the age of five, the legacy of my family in Taiwan has continued to have a profound impact in shaping my view of injustice and inequality, serendipity, and paradox. Later, as an MD-PhD student at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, I started a local chapter of Amnesty International. Unexpectedness and chance has been a recurring theme in my experience of doing science, whether in academia or industry. I was close to both of my grandfathers, who were gentle, courageous, and scholarly in their own manner. I have lived in many countries with conflicting political systems. As the CEO of a biotech/biopharm start up company, Prometheon Pharma, I am deeply passionate about innovating simple, scalable, and sustainable solutions to advance global health equity.

BMSIS: What motivated you to join the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science?

Steve: I was introduced to BMSIS by another member, Grasshopper Ilangkoon, who is an astrobiologist by training, but has started numerous NGOs in Africa, and is now the Director of Social Enterprise Development at Prometheon Pharma. I often joke that one day I was sitting in my office and thinking to myself, “What kind of expertise are we missing in the company? Of course, an astrobiologist.” Grasshopper introduced me to the work being done at BMSIS, which I found breath-taking and quite refreshing because of the eclecticism of its members, the deep commitment to “advancing educational equity” (Sanjoy Som deserves credit for this analogy to the social mission of Prometheon Pharma), and its mission of “studying the relationship between Earth system science, space exploration, and the future of humanity.” I was immediately struck by how this mission statement is a wonderful metaphor for that sense of expansiveness that we need to embrace as scientists, explorers, inventors, dreamers, and builders of a better tomorrow. I am convinced that we are entering an era in which we should adopt again the practice of being “generalists” rather the “specialists.” We long ago came to the conclusion that we can no longer reasonably aspire to be Renaissance man, epitomized by a great figure in American history who has always inspired me–namely Thomas Jefferson, whose utopian vision of the kind of global society to which we should aspire is set forth in his single-handed writing of the Declaration of Independence “of the thirteen united States of America.” As a politician, scientist, architect, inventor, musician, and educator, he followed many pursuits and interests, as did his colleagues such as Benjamin Franklin. We live in an unprecedented time in human history when an extraordinary and ever-growing “cloud” of public data has become available and accessible at our fingertips. This makes possible the birth of a modern Renaissance approach to doing science in which we no longer need to define ourselves narrowly by the shackles of an often arbitrary description of our expertise, interests, and activities. As scientists, explorers, innovators, and champions of a better future for mankind, I cannot think of another endeavor than space exploration as the ideal expression of the great frontier in which into which we can move confidently and courageously forward in the spirit of “What box?”