“Houston, it’s one small broccoli sprout for man; one giant leap in cancer prevention for all mankind.”
Amitabha “Guppy” Gupta ’05 knows how to hook an audience. As associate director, scientific content and engagement in the philanthropy department at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash., Gupta translates complex scientific information into clear, engaging, and yes, even fun, content that appeals to diverse audiences across multiple outlets.
In his quest to advance Fred Hutch’s “science for everyone” mission, Gupta has spread word of the center’s diverse experts and vast expertise everywhere, from corporations to Black churches, through his humorous “What the Hutch?” videos on Instagram and Facebook, and with AMAs on Twitch gaming streams. “It’s about being creative and very cognizant of who the audience is, what message they’re likely to be primed to receive and who is the right messenger,” he says.
Gupta’s interest in the field was sparked in the mid-’90s when, as a teen in India, he came across an article about the nascent field of genomic sequencing in a magazine. “I knew at that point, ‘This is what I am going to do,’” he recalls. “I knew I would study DNA and cancer, that science was the best thing ever, and that I was going to come to the U.S. for college.”
At Colgate, he relished working in the lab of his undergraduate adviser, Ken Belanger, the Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of biology. “He was such a great mentor and teacher,” Gupta says.
After completing his PhD in cellular, molecular, and biophysical studies at Columbia University, Gupta joined Fred Hutch as a postdoctoral fellow, researching how cells divide their DNA accurately and how that goes awry in cancer cells. “What I enjoyed the most about my time in the lab was teaching people about my work and inspiring younger students to go into science,” he says.
Gupta envisioned following in Belanger’s footsteps, serving as a science professor at a small liberal arts college. Instead, an opportunity arose at Fred Hutch. He’d already been volunteering with the philanthropy department by speaking with donors about his research.
The department had an opening for a scientific communications coordinator, someone to serve as a liaison between donors and Fred Hutch scientists. “My desire was to let science speak for itself — to give science an opportunity to lead in our discussions with donors and the public,” he says. “I realized I couldn’t do that without knowing about the science of all of Fred Hutch. So in my first year, I made it priority to attend seminars from every division and know every piece of research we do.”
He gradually mastered the art of “code switching” from scientist-speak to layman’s terms. “It’s a hard thing to do,” he says. “I’d been in science for so long that it didn’t occur to me that people don’t use the same terms and jargons that I take for granted. I realized I was talking at people instead of talking with them; that has been my biggest change.”
Gupta’s appealing approach is on full display in his “What the Hutch?” videos, which combine humor and visual aids in concise segments highlighting research advances at the institution. In one, he compares the faceoff between cancer and the immune system to a game of chess.
Gupta also spearheaded a profile campaign highlighting the diversity among Fred Hutch’s researchers. “If you can see yourself represented in the people behind the science, you may be inspired to go into science, too,” he says.
In November 2021, Gupta and his colleagues hosted a virtual Q&A between Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, and three Fred Hutch researchers, spreading the word about COVID-19 evolution and tracking, immunotherapy advances, and the importance of colorectal screening in communities of color.
Gupta is especially proud of launching the highly successful Lunch and Learn series, which has reached more than 35,000 people across the country and around the world. “We show up and say, ‘Here are six topics we can talk about’ and let the room decide,” he explains. Naturally, pandemic-related topics such as the importance of vaccines and masking have been in demand, as have presentations on reducing cancer risk.
“We’re making the science more accessible to more people and to more diverse audiences,” he says. “It’s basically, ‘Have Science, Will Travel.’”