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Rohit Bhargava

Rohit Bhargava

'In the following days and months, it became clear that life would change forever'


UI Professor of Engineering, Cancer Center Director

At that time, I worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and was heading to work around 8:30 that morning. As I walked to the Rockville metro station, my thoughts were mostly about research as we were nearing a breakthrough, on the lovely weather we were having that day and immense hope that the coming days would reveal new research results that could help image cancers better.

The sky was clear and the sun was shining. The humid and hot days of D.C. had given way to pleasant conditions and it seemed to be a picture-perfect day.

As I reached work, news of a plane crashing in New York trickled in. Then, of one into the Pentagon. It seemed too improbable to be a coincidence.

Being federal workers, we were first told to shelter in place and then go home. Soon, phone lines were jammed and communications became difficult. As the day wore on, the events of the day became clearer and a deep sense of bereavement set in.

In the following days and months, it became clear that life would change forever. A fence went up around the NIH, getting on an airplane became significantly more complicated and it seemed the openness of American society changed.

Twenty years later, there is some relief that such events have not recurred in the U.S. However, there is perhaps increased danger from both domestic and global extremist ideologies that is driven by a profound change in access to and level of understanding of information. The ill-effects of from physical extremism seems to have transitioned to information and cyber extremism.

Regardless, I remain hopeful of a better society and scientific progress. Our children are more aware and driven to action to help. Scientifically, we have an amazing Cancer Center at Illinois now that promises even more powerful breakthroughs. Locally and globally, our community is resilient in tackling challenges like we faced with the pandemic.

I remain hopeful but vigilant that our focus must remain on these important societal challenges. As we recall Sept. 11 20 years hence, we can honor its memory best by contributing to make the world better.

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