Kai Zinn was born in Berkeley, California, but grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. His father, now retired, was a chemist working on weapons research; his mother, who came to the United States from Germany after World War II, teaches German. Zinn had two brothers, but one was killed when he was fourteen. During high school, Zinn became an Explorer Scout and began to engage in outdoor activities like rafting, climbing, skiing, hiking. Zinn decided to attend the University of California at San Diego, where Paul Saltman inspired him to major in chemistry. During his last year in college, Zinn worked on an independent study with Jack Kyte. After graduation Zinn had planned to travel, but he fell at Yosemite National Park and broke his leg, so he ended up back at Kyte's lab for a month or so during that summer. Then he spent a year just traveling, visiting Nepal, Thailand, and the Virgin Islands. During his travels he picked up giardia and was ill for several months. Kyte helped persuade Zinn to go to Harvard for his PhD. There he worked on SV40 in Mark Ptashne's lab. While at Harvard, Zinn and Pamela J. Bjorkman, who was working on HLA (histocompatibility locus antigen) in Don Wiley's lab. met and married. Zinn next moved to Tom Maniatis's lab to work on interferon. After that, tired of interferon, Zinn moved to Corey Goodman's lab. Pamela stayed another year at Harvard, finally finishing the structure of HLA. After joining Zinn in California, Pamela discovered that she was pregnant with their son Leif. Zinn finished his postdocs at Stanford and Berkeley and then accepted a job at California Institute of Technology, where he is now an associate professor. He continues to publish, teach, read novels, work less then he would like on the bench, and spend time with his son, Leif, his daughter, Katya, and his wife.
Michel Streuli was born in Zürich, Switzerland, where his father was a doctor and his mother a law librarian. When he was about three, Michel and his family moved to Bronxville, New York, where his father had taken a postdoc. After a couple of years the family moved back to Switzerland, later returning to the United States, where Michel began school. In school he liked mathematics and engineering. He built a washing machine and an artificial kidney with his father when he was ten or twelve. In high school he enjoyed mathematics and science classes; he had a very good biology teacher. He tutored math in Harlem and enjoyed sports. He had always wanted to be a doctor and a scientist, and since Tufts was known to have a good program in child development and pediatrics, Michel began college there, with biology as his major. He also joined the squash team. After his junior year he went to Switzerland for a summer but stayed for a year. He finished his degree in the United States and then went back to Zürich to do research in Charles Weissman's lab, where he worked on cloning interferon. He returned after five years to the Dana-Farber Cancer Center to work in Stuart F. Schlossman's lab. He found a place in Haruo Saito's lab, working on cloning antigens, specifically the antigen CD45, the leukocyte common antigen. It had been cloned for a part of the rat gene but not for the human. During this period, he married Elsa Gontrum, who was studying art history at Yale. They have since had two children. After finishing his postdoc, he accepted an assistant professorship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center and at Harvard University, in the department of pathology. He is now an associate professor and continues his research, hoping that eventually scientists will develop cancer therapies. He has patented some of his discoveries; he continues to publish articles and win awards; and he and his wife attempt to balance family life with their two careers.
John H. Weiss grew up in San Francisco, California, the oldest of three children. His parents were both psychiatrists. He attended a private grade school and a less traditional high school; he found school interesting but not especially difficult. He developed his interest in math and science early, and he found that science came naturally to him as he was interested in discerning patterns in the way the world works. Weiss entered Stanford University, where he majored in biology with a focus on neuroscience. After taking an extra year of undergraduate study, he applied to medical school. He spent six months in a biochemistry research lab, and he attended science classes while at Stanford University School of Medicine, but uncertainty prevented Weiss from seeking a lab position. He found that the practical challenges of medical residency proved more difficult than course work when he started a neurology residency. During that residency he met Dennis W. Choi and entered the Stanford PhD program in neuroscience. In the Choi lab he began work on mechanisms of nerve cell degeneration in stroke and on glutamate's toxic effect on nerve cells. Choi proposed two phases of glutamate injury. Research on nerve degenerative diseases on Guam led Weiss to study β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). His work in the Choi lab on BMAA yielded clues regarding AMPA/kainate receptor activation in nerve-degenerative diseases. He discovered that BMAA's toxicity depends on a covalent interaction with other compounds, explaining about AMPA/kainate toxicity and receptor activation, the role of voltage-sensitive calcium channels, BMAA's role in nerve-degenerative disease, and the finding that zinc accumulation in voltage-sensitive calcium channels might cause cell death (apoptosis). Weiss accepted a position at University of California, Irvine, and received a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award and a National Institutes of Health grant, though he did not have lab space immediately available at Irvine. While starting his lab he had teaching and clinical responsibilities, he had to find and hire postdocs, and he had to mentor students. At the end of the interview Weiss discusses AMPA/kainate-type glutamate receptor-mediated toxicity in selective nerve cell degeneration; calcium in selective injury; a collaboration with the Choi lab to study "cobalt positive" NADPH-diaphorase cells; attempts to improve upon historically poor results of calcium imaging studies; correlating calcium influx and intercellular calcium levels with cell death; and the role of zinc in selective injury. His collaboration with Carl Cotman on β-amyloid protein's toxicity in cortical cell cultures and new directions for research on cellular functions constituted his attempts to establish a reputation separate from Choi's and to overcome the competitive pressure he felt in his field. He concludes by saying that he has found a supportive community at the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences annual meetings.
Charles S. Zuker was born and raised in Arica, Chile, on the border of Peru and Bolivia though the family moved to Santiago when Zuker was in the third year of his high school. His father was a prominent businessman, his mother a homemaker; Zuker was the second oldest of four siblings. He had a normal childhood playing with friends, though, from an early age, he was interested in biology and medicine but not in becoming a doctor. Although Jewish, he attended Jesuit schools since, from his parents' perspective, they provided the best education in Chile. The reign of Salvador Allende Gossens caused some perturbation within Chile and for Zuker's family but did not have much of an impact on Zuker's education; the prominence of electrophysiological work on the giant squid, a native of Chile, provided some access to well-trained scientists. He was tracked, from an early age, to study biology and so he entered the Universidad Católica de Valparaiso for his degree, knowing all the while that he wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in the United States. He worked as a teaching assistant as an undergraduate, learned about scientific research from a doctoral student at the university, and became handy at building his own equipment with little funds. He applied to and was accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for his graduate studies, during which time he had to develop rapidly his knowledge of the English language. After rotating through several labs, Zuker settled in to work with Harvey F. Lodish using slime molds as a system for studying development and trying to characterize the genes turned on as the molds developed spores. He moved on to a postdoctoral position at the University of California, Berkeley with Gerald M. Rubin, focusing more on neurobiological questions and, ultimately, research on photoreceptor cell function. Zuker used an RNA probe to isolate the rhodopsin gene in Drosophila; findings from this work published in Cell were done so simultaneously with competitors Joseph E. O'Tousa and William L. Pak. He then accepted a faculty position at the University of California, San Diego, and set up his research on Drosophila signaling pathways. Throughout the interview he talks about his role and reputation at San Diego, as well as the joint graduate program with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, basic research in underdeveloped countries, and the standards of graduate education. The interview concludes with Zuker's thoughts on the value of competition in science; his graduate students; balancing time in the lab with time with his family; the significance of the ninaA gene in explaining why cyclosporinA suppresses immune reactions; the development of electrophysiology techniques; the inability to do targeted mutagenesis on Drosophila; using the presence or absence of a protein as an assay to determine whether a gene is active or not; the process of breeding genetic stock in the laboratory; knocking out fly genes and attempting to rescue the function; and the utility of mutants in exploring the signaling pathway. He ends the interview with a discussion of how technology dominates modern biological research but cannot substitute for imagination and intuition; evolutionary conservation; learning the cause of retinitis pigmentosa; the quality of National Institutes of Health study sections; and his intense devotion to science.
Lubert Stryer was born in Tientsin (now Tianjin), China. He and his family lived in Shanghai until he was about ten. Lubert’s father had come to China from Germany, his mother from Russia, in order to escape the turmoil in Europe, but the Japanese invaded and interned Shanghai’s British, Canadian, and American citizens. Somehow the Stryers escaped notice and, after the war, obtained visas for the United States, moving to Forest Hills, New York. Lubert had always loved school, and he found his high school to be of excellent quality. As a youngster he loved baseball and chemistry; he founded his own newspaper, The Daily Bugle, and he became interested in photography.
Stryer was fascinated by history when he was in high school, and he planned to become a lawyer, but the head of the science department asked him to do some research on bioluminescent bacteria, and Lubert was “hooked.” He applied to Harvard University and the University of Chicago for college, knowing that he would need a good scholarship; he accepted the offer from Chicago, matriculating at sixteen. With medical school as his goal and majoring in physiology, he worked at Argonne National Laboratories in the summers, becoming interested in photodynamic action. Here began his lifelong passion, “light and life.” The intellectual experience in college was intense, and friendships abounded. It was also an exciting time of exploding knowledge in science, with DNA being discovered, oscilloscopes replacing smoke drums. Always eager for the next experience or challenge, Lubert finished college in three years, accepted an offer from Harvard, and entered medical school at the age of nineteen.
At Harvard Lubert again found himself among the brightest scientific minds of his generation; he called upon his friendships to establish a relationship with Elkan Blout, who remained his mentor throughout his school years. Blout directed Lubert to Children’s Cancer Research Foundation, where he worked on polypeptides conformation and learned spectroscopy. When he was in his last year of medical school, Stryer knew that he did not want to practice medicine and forwent internship for an immediate postdoctoral fellowship. In Carolyn Cohen’s laboratory, he learned x-ray diffraction, drank much coffee, and engaged in many wide-ranging discussions with labmates. During this year he also was tutored in physics and mathematics by Edward Purcell and began learning computing; having married his Chicagoan fiancée, Andrea, when he was twenty, for which he needed his parents’ consent, he also fathered his first child. At that point Blout arranged for Stryer to study with Sir John Kendrew at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England. Again he worked among and with Nobel Prize-winning scientists: Kendrew, Crick, Watson, Perutz, Sanger.
After about a year Arthur Kornberg asked Kendrew for recommendations, and Stryer’s next stop was Stanford. Teaching protein structure and function, he found wonderful science and scientists at Stanford too. Stryer believes that he flourished during the “golden age” of science, which began to change after the Vietnam War.
After a few years at Stanford Lubert, now an associate professor, wanted to change his research area to visual excitation, so when Yale offered him a full professorship and all the lab space he wanted, he and his wife and now two sons moved east. Using the notes he developed for his class in biochemistry Stryer wrote his now-canonical textbook. He feels that although he did not publish so much while at Yale his work there set the stage for his later discoveries in amplification in vision.
Stanford offered him chairmanship of the new department of structural biology, and back they all went to California. There Stryer wrote the next edition of his textbook. He gave up his chairmanship after a couple of years because he found it “not fun.” This relinquishment allowed him to become more proficient on (very early) computers, even writing his own programs. Most importantly, he enjoyed a “magic moment” when he discovered that a single photon can lead to the activation of five-hundred molecules of transducin.
As Stryer has gradually disentangled himself from his university work his position in the scientific community has evolved. He sees himself creating new ways to do interesting things outside of the lab. He became an advisor for the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, helping to promote new young scientists. He has been involved in several companies in private industry, a result of his interest in olfaction and vision; he has established and led BIO2010 to study the future of undergraduate biology education, and helped implement those ideas at Stanford; he remains interested in human evolution, continuing several projects, studying just for the sake of learning.
Lubert Stryer’s list of honors, culminating in the National Medal of Science, is extensive and impressive. His own description of his science, “light and life,” best describes Stryer himself.
Torsten N. Wiesel was born and grew up near Stockholm, Sweden, the youngest of five children. His father was a psychiatrist at Beckomberga Hospital, a mental institution comprising 30-40 fenced acres, and the whole family lived in the compound, as did other staff members and their families. Wiesel attended a private school in Stockholm, but was more interested in soccer and orienteering than studying. When he was in his teens his parents divorced, and he decided to become a doctor. He attended medical school at Karolinska Institute and worked there for a few years before coming to the United States as a postdoc in Stephen Kuttler's lab at Johns Hopkins University. There he worked on epilepsy. One of his brothers had become schizophrenic; this, along with his frustration with the lack of insightful care for the mentally ill in the 1940's and 1950's, prompted Torsten's interest in neuroscience. Working in Kuttler's lab with Kenneth Brown, he dealt with retinal ganglion receptive fields/responses to light stimulation, using cats and monkeys as his lab animals. David Hubel arrived at Hopkins, and the two men began a very long collaboration that in 1981 garnered them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Eventually, after moving through several departments at Harvard University, Wiesel ended up in the neurobiology department, where he ultimately became the chairman. In 1983, after Torsten had been chairman for ten years, he and Charles Gilbert, with whom he was then working, moved to Rockefeller University. There he became chairman of the faculty, and was thus asked to be president when David Baltimore resigned. Wiesel brought together again the disillusioned faculty and, with a substantial gift from David Rockefeller, recruited more good scientists. He now spends some time in Sweden, where he visits his two sisters and one brother twice a year, and in Strasbourg, where he is Secretary General of the Human Frontier Science Program. He has many professional affiliations and directorships; he has won many, many awards, and he has published much.
Gerald Weissmann's oral history begins with a discussion of his family and childhood in Vienna, Austria. While still very young, Weissmann and his family fled the Nazi Anschluss. After their journey from Vienna to Italy, Paris, and London, and before finally reaching New York, Weissmann developed a political awareness at a young age. Throughout his youth in New York City, Weissmann's father, also a rheumatologist, exerted a positive influence on Gerald's own career path. Additionally, Weissmann was influenced and mentored by his father's friend and colleague, the famed pathologist, Paul D. Klemperer. After earning a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Columbia College, Weissmann, entered medical school at New York University [NYU], citing his love of science as a primary reason for following such a career path. Following an internship year at Mount Sinai Hospital, Weissmann entered the army and, while stationed at Fort Dix Army Hospital in New Jersey, he published his first scientific paper. Following his time in the army, Weissmann faced a decision between following a purely clinical career in rheumatology, like his father, or an academic one, focused on medicine and rheumatology research. Having opted for the research career, Weissmann continued his residency program at Mount Sinai Hospital and became chief resident at Bellevue Hospital under Lewis Thomas. Concurrent with his residency, Weissmann undertook research at NYU with Severo Ochoa. After becoming an Instructor in Medicine at NYU, Weissmann traveled to the Strangeways Research Laboratory at the University of Cambridge to collaborate with Dame Honor Fell studying the effects of excess Vitamin A on bone rudiment and cartilage. At approximately the same time, Weissmann's research transitioned from studying lysosomes into studying lipids. In the mid-1960s, Weissmann, along with close friend, Alec D. Bangham, discovered liposomes and developed a new field of research. In 1982 Weissmann and E. C. [Jack] Whitehead founded The Liposome Company, which received FDA approval for the drugs Abelcet and Myocet. In this oral history, Weissmann also discusses, in great detail, the origins of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Program. Although he heaped most praise on Joshua Lederberg for the program, Weissmann also described his influence and that of other early Advisory Board members. Contrasting the Pew funding for biomedical scientists with larger funding bodies like the NIH, Weissmann extolled the benefits of funding creative young scientists. In conclusion, Weissmann discusses his own popular scientific writings and larger issues in the history and sociology of science.
David J. Sullivan, Jr.'s interview begins with a discussion of his childhood in Birmingham, Alabama during which he was surrounded by a large and supportive family. He cites the importance of his family's Catholicism, strong work ethic, and their emphasis on Scouting in fostering his interests. After deciding to attend the University of Virginia, Sullivan's scientific interests blossomed throughout the 1980s against the backdrop of HIV and other infectious diseases. While undertaking his medical education at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Sullivan developed an interest in scientific research with clinical applications. Concurrent with his medical education, Sullivan pursued a study of bioethics that he brought to his residency and fellowship work at Washington University in St. Louis. Before moving to St. Louis, Missouri, however, Sullivan worked at a clinic in Mussoorie, India, during the last few months of medical school. Throughout the interview, Sullivan described his service work in the community, including his time in India, and how community service allowed him to meet the Dalai Lama. While in St. Louis, Sullivan worked with Daniel E. Goldberg and concentrated his infectious disease research on the field of malaria. Continuing his efforts on heme crystallization and Zinc photoporphyrin-9, Sullivan brought his malaria research to Johns Hopkins University. Shortly after beginning as a principal investigator, Sullivan received a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. He described the impact of the award as well as his perceptions of the annual meetings held during his four years as a Scholar. The interview concludes with Sullivan's discussion of biomedical funding, science after September 11th, and biomedical ethics in relation to funding.
Trevor Williams, the youngest of three children, was born and grew up in Wolverhampton, England. His father worked for the railroads; he was drafted into the Royal Engineers, where he met Trevor's mother, who became a school cook. The elder of Trevor's two older sisters was not interested in school, but the next sister fought their parents to be able to attend college; this helped prepare the way for Trevor. Their neighborhood was working-class. The comprehensive school that Trevor was assigned to after elementary school was tough, and at the time did not graduate many college-bound pupils. However, he did well enough on a school exam to be accepted into the local grammar school instead. He had always liked school, especially science. As a perk of his job, Trevor's father received a number of train tickets each year, tickets that Trevor and his mother would use to visit her family in Kent; this meant transferring in London , and on those trips they would visit the natural history or science museums, further fueling Trevor's interest in science. Trevor's grammar school encouraged him to strive for Oxbridge; he applied to Cambridge because he had been told Oxford was more snooty and because of the importance of science at Cambridge . A class with Tony Minson convinced him that virology would be his specialty. After his second year he won a research fellowship to study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where he worked on herpes virus in James McDougall's lab. The next year his interest in the molecular genetics of cancer as related to viruses led him to spend a summer fellowship in Joe Sambrook's lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Subsequently, Trevor moved to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, where he began his PhD studies with Michael Hayman, but later switched to Michael Fried's lab to study cell enhancers. Shifting from virology to molecular biochemistry, Trevor accepted a postdoc in Robert Tjian's lab at University of California at Berkeley . There he jumped into research on AP transcription. Realizing that science in the United States provided a more comprehensive market for all kinds of research, Trevor decided not to return to Britain. He accepted an assistant professorship at Yale, where he has since become an associate professor. Still preferring basic science to applied, he continues his research into AP-2. He has been a Howard Hughes Fellow and has won a Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award; he continues to write and publish his work; he teaches undergraduate classes as well the students in his lab; he writes grant proposals; and he attempts to balance all this with having a personal life.
Philip D. Zamore's oral history begins with a discussion of his childhood in New York City and Long Island. Explaining his family's emphasis on education and the influence of his father, Zamore detailed his father's illness and death while Zamore attended Harvard University. As an undergraduate at Harvard Zamore developed his interest in science and decided to focus on molecular biology. He spent time in several laboratories including one summer at The Rockefeller University with Sid Strickland and Michael W. Young, though the majority of his laboratory experience was at Massachusetts General Hospital with John H. Hartwig. Staying at Harvard for a semester after graduating to work as a laboratory technician with Michael R. Green, Zamore decided to conduct his graduate research there as well. He moved with Green from Harvard to the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, where his work on snRNP flourished. Subsequently Zamore undertook postdoctoral research with Ruth Lehmann at the Whitehead Institute for Biological Studies at MIT and he collaborated with the laboratories of James R. Williamson and David P. Bartel after Lehmann moved to the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University. After his postdoctoral studies, but before moving to his Principal Investigator position at the University of Massachusetts, Zamore began working in the emerging field of RNAi. He detailed his experiences with RNAi and his early work running his own laboratory including the receipt of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Award. Throughout the interview Zamore discussed the importance of writing and publishing and his relationship with his students, as well as balancing his family life with his career. He also compared government funding to private funding, and criticized the U. S. government for not sponsoring riskier science. Zamore explained his experiences in starting the biotech firm Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and concluded his oral history interview with a discussion of trends in biomedical science, RNA research, and globalization.
Hong Sun was born and raised in Beijing, China, during the Cultural Revolution, the older of two siblings. Both of her parents were physicians who, later in their careers, focused more on medical research than practice—her mother in pathology, her father in immunology. Life during the Revolution provided a "chaotic" education at times, including a year of re-education in the countryside at the end of high school, and also family separation (Sun's parents were sent to the countryside for several years for re-education, while Sun remained in Beijing under her grandmother's care). The rise of Deng Xiaoping to power after Chairman Mao brought a return of the college admission program, giving Sun the ability to develop and pursue her interest in science, attending Beijing Medical College, from which she received her medical degree. She also took part in the basic research program at the medical school, studying the binding affinity of monoclonal antibodies against aflatoxin for her thesis. Wanting to move more into research Sun received first place in the China United States Biochemistry Examination and Admission (CUSBEA) program examination and attended Harvard University for her doctoral study on the merits of its prestige, especially in the field of biomedical science. At Harvard, while adjusting to American culture, Sun worked with Jack W. Szostak on the recombination process in meiosis. From there she moved on to a postdoctoral position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York with Nicholas K. Tonks researching the protein tyrosine phosphatase and MKP-1—her husband, also a scientist, took a position there as well. Interested most by research, Sun sought out a position at a research university, and, along with her husband, took a position at Yale University. Throughout the interview, Sun compares various aspects of American and Chinese life and culture, including the educational systems and the practice of science. At the end of the interview she discusses her time at Yale, including setting up her laboratory, learning about the tenure process, teaching, and balancing her family and career; she notes as well that her recent research on protein tyrosine phosphatases and the mechanism of tumor formation has potential short-term and long-term applications in the areas of cancer research and aging. The interview concludes with Sun's reflections on gender issues in science; collaborations between industry and the academy; the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on her work; and changes she would make to improve the quality of science in the United States.
Thomas E. Wilson's oral history begins with a discussion of his childhood in Neenah, Wisconsin where his father was a chemical engineer with Kimberley-Clark. While his father often brought work and work-related discussions home, his mother, a teacher, also encouraged the academic and inquisitive environment of the household. Nature activities, building projects, and music heavily influenced Wilson's childhood. Although there was brief interest in attending college to pursue a study of music, Wilson matriculated at the University of Wisconsin from which a number of his family members had graduated. During his undergraduate studies Wilson was involved in the Medical Scholars Program for pre-medical studies, pursued biology research with Charles B. Kaspar, and built musical instruments. The developing field of molecular biology and the excitement of research lessened Wilson's interest in pursuing the medical degree, however, Wilson decided upon a combined MD/PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis where he could continue his longstanding interest in medicine but pursue a laboratory research program as well. While Wilson acknowledges the flaws in combined programs, he still believes in the ideological and practical benefits of integrating the clinical and laboratory aspects of the two degrees. Joining Jeffrey D. Milbrant's laboratory for his PhD research, Wilson undertook a DNA binding project that allowed him to collaborate with yeast geneticist Mark Johnston. Wilson and his wife, who was also in the MD/PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis, started their family while still in graduate school, which changed the amount of time Wilson spent in the lab, but taught him an increased level of efficiency. Wilson experienced difficulty transitioning from the PhD program back to the clinical rotations of medical school, leading him to focus less on clinical work and more on research. He set his sights on pathology which enabled him to work with tissue in a medical context but not directly with patients. After earning his MD and PhD degrees, Wilson began his residency and post-doctoral research on DNA repair mechanisms with Michael R. Lieber. After Lieber moved to the University of Southern California, Wilson stayed at Washington University and used space in Milbrandt's lab in order to finish his work. He secured a position at the University of Michigan within the pathology department which would allow him ample laboratory opportunities while maintaining ties to the clinical world. Shortly after beginning as a principal investigator, Wilson earned the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. Throughout the oral history interview Wilson discussed funding, balancing clinical and laboratory duties and work and family, and the public understanding of science.
Karel Svoboda was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, though he and his family immigrated to western Germany—the Ruhr Valley—during the Cold War era, in stages: first, his father, then his mother, Svoboda, and one sister, and then, finally, his youngest sister. Both of Svoboda's parents studied chemical engineering, though only his father received his degree since his mother focused on raising their children; later, his mother became a teacher in Germany and then, when the family immigrated, the United States as well. In Germany, Svoboda attended an alternative school that focused much more on the arts, like music, chorus, and theater, which he enjoyed tremendously. He always performed well in his mathematics and science classes, and developed prowess in chess.
Not wanting to stagger his education for time in Germany's military service, Svoboda applied to several universities in the United States and chose to matriculate at Cornell University. He capitalized on the work-study program while there, working in a number of research labs throughout his undergraduate career, initially as a computer programmer. The summers he spent at Bell Laboratories, where he worked in statistics and then in physics, and the semester he spent at the Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory, where he worked full-time in a physics laboratory focused on high-temperature critical superconductors, were significant in his scientific development. After applying to and being accepted at Harvard University for graduate studies Svoboda deferred for a year in order to teach physics in Katmandu, Nepal. At Harvard, he started his doctoral work with Howard Berg but then also worked with Steven M. Block at the Rowland Institute for the Sciences. His love of Bell Laboratories during his undergraduate years brought him back there for postdoctoral research on synapses with Winfred Denk and David Tank, and gave him the opportunity to take what became a very influential course on neural systems at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Svoboda left Bell for a position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, studying biophysical neuroscience in neocortical circuits and their plasticity, with the intent of expanding his work to ensembles of neocortical circuits.
As the interview came to a close, Svoboda discuss some of the general issues associated with being a principal investigator and a scientist working in the United States, like the issue of patents; the origin of his ideas; the process of conducting scientific research; becoming familiar with the history of a particular field of research; competition and collaboration in science; setting the national scientific agenda; and the role of the scientist in educating the public about science. The interview concluded with his thoughts on the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award.
Jeffrey Wilusz grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey, in a Polish Roman Catholic family. His father worked in various capacities for the telephone company; his mother was a homemaker until her four children were in school, at which time she began secretarial work. Wilusz attended Roman Catholic schools all through high school (his religion continues to influence his children's lives). He entered Rutgers-the State University, where he decided to pursue veterinary medicine, and the death of his favorite dog confirmed him in that decision. He found thinking through scientific issues similar to solving puzzles, and running helped him both clarify his thinking and relax. Although his high-school education had not provided scientific training and opportunities, he studied microbiology for his undergraduate degree. Wilusz became interested in virology and began graduate work at Duke University, where he overcame his lack of familiarity with new molecular ideas and procedures and intensified his interest in virology. Jack Keene (Pew Scholar Class of 1985) and Thomas Shenk became his mentors. He met and married Susan Miller, and they had two children. Lessons learned in Keene's lab helped Wilusz identify a leader RNA that binds to La protein. The Keene lab switched from vesicular stomatitis virus research to autoantigen research, which contributed to Wilusz's ability to identify acidic ribosomal proteins in autoantigens. He began the sequencing of Ebola virus-identified RNA structural regions that recognize antibodies, and began studying VA RNA in the Shenk lab. He used in vitro polyadenylation to study protein-RNA interactions. Wilusz accepted a postdoc at Princeton University, where he had to juggle career and family life. Wilusz then moved on to a position at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, where he continued to pursue his interest in RNA research. During the interview he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing diverse lines of research in a lab; presenting research results at conferences; publishing; funding; and his current research projects. He answers questions about new technology's role in stimulating creative science; his greatest strengths as a scientist; his thoughts on scientific accountability and ethics. He describes how he juggles career and family life; the allocation of his time; his working relationship with graduate students; the problem of finding skilled lab personnel; his mentoring style; and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Wilusz concludes his interview with his opinion about trends and problems in the biomedical sciences.
William S. Talbot grew up in Gainesville, Florida, enjoying nature, playing outside, and playing sports (for a time, an offensive guard and a nose tackle in football). His father was an oral surgeon who did a stint in the US Navy; his mother received a master's degree in education and, later in life, worked in property management. Although he did not appreciate it at the time, growing up in a university town provided Talbot with what he considered a great education and access to several influential teachers. In an advanced biology course Talbot had the opportunity to develop his own science fair project, which brought him into the lab of Edward Wakeland to work on the nature and extent of variation in wild mouse populations. Talbot decided to continue working with Wakeland as an undergraduate at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he also broadened his intellectual horizons through studies in classes on the history of science. After completing his degree at Gainesville, he moved on to graduate studies at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, working with David S. Hogness in developmental genetics on the hormonal control of metamorphosis in Drosophila, and then on to a postdoctoral position with Charles B. Kimmel at the University of Oregon mapping the zebrafish genome and characterizing mutations. From Oregon he returned to the east coast, accepting a position at the Skirball Institute at New York University, where he researched the genes involved in early tissue development of zebrafish and began collaborating with Alexander F. Schier. Soon after, though, Talbot decided to return to Stanford, working in vertebrate developmental biology, that is, at the genes involved in axis formation, tissue differentiation, and myelin formation. At the end of the interview, Talbot discusses patents; his reasons for becoming a principal investigator; collaboration and competition in science; setting the national scientific agenda; the privatization of scientific research; and his transition to studying myelin formation.
Mark Winey was born in Chicago, Illinois, where his father was finishing a Master's degree in chemistry at the University of Chicago. Some months later the family moved back to the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, near where both parents had grown up. Mark was followed by two sisters. The elder Winey finished a PhD in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, and has worked on the bench at a research laboratory ever since. Mark's mother was at home with her children until they were established in school, at which time she began teaching English in the high school district where Mark and his sisters went to school. She also obtained a degree in counseling, and Mark likes to laugh that she practiced on the kids. For the most part, the family had a good upper-middle-class life in Bucks County, attending the local public schools and being active in their Presbyterian church. Mark's initial interest in genetics, however, resulted from his younger sister's galactosemia; she was very ill as an infant, and she was eventually sent to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where the uncommon genetic trait was diagnosed. CHOP was one of few places where this diagnosis could have been made. When he was in high school Mark, who had always been determined to be a scientist, took many science classes, which he thinks were excellent, and a number of liberal arts classes that he liked as well. His ninth-grade biology teacher cemented his determination to go into biology. During high school he also began his enduring love of the outdoors, spending much time climbing, camping, and hiking; he even held a part-time job at an outdoor-equipment store. These two interests combined in Syracuse University, where he could major in biology, but where SUNY Stony Brook also had its forestry school. Soon, though, he settled on just biology, working on blue-green algae in James Smith's laboratory. A class in microbiology taught by Ernest Hemphill convinced him that yeast was his research subject, and he maintains that love. Winey met his future wife at Syracuse and developed many friendships there as well. Yeast took him to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, where he worked with Michael Culbertson. His love for yeast he explains as having three reasons: it has good genetics; it is a good teaching medium; and it has applications to the study of human disease. For his postdoctoral work he and his by-then wife, Mary Darlington, went to the University of Washington, where he worked in the Breck Byers laboratory, studying centrosomes, screening for mutations that affect spindle pole body duplications. From Byers' lab he accepted a faculty position at the University of Colorado, taking his work with him. There he continues to do research on MPS1, MPS2, and NDC1; to write grants; to recruit graduate students; teach; and to write papers. He also must balance his work with his wife and three children, and they continue their outdoor activities.
Song Tan was born in London, England; he has one brother and one half brother. His father was from Singapore, his mother from China. When Tan was five the family moved to Singapore, where they lived for ten years before settling in Miami, Florida. Tan's father was a civil engineer; his mother was in banking and in wholesale distribution; she went back to banking when they moved to the United States. Tan remembers always being interested in science, especially the chemical elements. He loved to read, finding the Childcraft How and Why Library particularly fascinating. In Singapore Tan attended the Anglo-Chinese School. He was in an honors program in his high school in Florida that allowed students to work in university labs around Miami; Tan went to the University of Miami. He worked in Richard Doepker's lab, where he analyzed the products of burning plastic (pyrolysis of polystyrene). Tan took fourth place in the Westinghouse Talent Search; he used his scholarship at Cornell University, which had the added attraction of a synchrotron. Still interested in particle physics, he became increasingly intrigued by genetic engineering. He majored in physics, but with a concentration in biochemistry. He worked in Aaron Lewis's lab, where he purified bacteriorhodopsin and studied photoreceptors. He also worked at the synchrotron with David Cassel. Tan was awarded both the Churchill and the Marshall Scholarships; he declined the Churchill and accepted the Marshall, matriculating into the University of Cambridge, which initially assigned him to Trevor Lamb's lab at the University of Cambridge. Lamb recommended him to Timothy Richmond at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, where he worked on protein-DNA interactions of yeast mating-type transcription factors. Tan moved with Richmond to Zürich, Switzerland, to the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH). There he finished his PhD and continued his work, first as a postdoc and then as Oberassistent, or project leader. Throughout and after his graduate career Tan had the opportunity to meet many famous scientists at LMB and ETH, including Paul Sigler at a synchrotron in Hamburg, Germany. At that meeting, the Richmond and Sigler groups realized they were both working to determine the crystal structure of TFIIA and TBP transcription factors with DNA; the two groups ended up publishing in the same week. Upon finishing his work with Richmond, Tan accepted an assistant professorship at Penn State University. At the end of the interview, Tan discusses the approaches he brought with him from Richmond's lab; he talks about his enjoyment of teaching and his teaching methods; he compares students at Penn State with those at other schools; and he discusses politics and language. Tan also describes the process of obtaining the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award and the annual meetings. The interview concludes with his thoughts on funding in general and his funding in particular; and with thanks to his parents for providing him with such fine opportunities.
Sarah A. Woodson was born and raised in Warren, Michigan. Her father was a music teacher; Sarah's mother, who was from Amsterdam, Holland, was a housewife until her children were older, when she finished college and became a teacher. Sarah began as a violinist and soon switched to piano. She was always interested in science, beginning in second grade with the solar system. She believes that she was shy, and she took refuge in books, reading a great deal of the time. Her father believed that women had a certain subservient place in society and should follow certain codes of behavior, codes that did not permit married women to work. But Sarah's mother helped Sarah rebel against the strictures and go into science in college. She attended Kalamazoo College, majoring in chemistry and being graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After spending a year at a lab in France, she had to do a research project, which she did in Morton Rabin's lab at Wayne State University. From Michigan Woodson went to Yale University, where she worked in Donald M. Crothers' lab, studying nucleic acids using NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy). After five years there she spent three years as a postdoc with Thomas Cech at University of Colorado. There she studied RNA, discovering reverse self-splicing. While there she met her future husband, Steven Rokita. She then accepted a position at the University of Maryland, and she and Rokita, who was on the chemistry faculty at State University of New York at Stony Brook, began their relationship. While at Maryland Sarah developed a revised biochemistry program for undergraduates. She moved from assistant to associate professor, when she was granted tenure; then she obtained full professorship. At that point she was offered a position at Johns Hopkins University, where she continues to teach, run her lab, publish, write grant proposals, and mentor her lab members. Her work on the structures and interactions of RNA continues. Her husband, Steven Rokita, is now a faculty member in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland.
Toshio Tsukiyama was born in Chiba, a prefecture near Tokyo, Japan, the second of two children. His father began as an engineer in a company that built chemical factories, but he eventually became an executive. His company exported its factories, so Toshio's father travelled outside Japan a great deal. For that reason and because he was, as Toshio describes him, a typical Japanese male, the family did not interact much with him, and he did not discuss his work at home. Toshio's mother was a housewife and the children spent part of each summer visiting grandparents. Toshio's sister wanted to be a veterinarian and wanted to get away from home, so she enrolled at a vet school on Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, Japan's last frontier. Influenced by her, Toshio also went to Hokkaido, but to a different school, Obihiro University. His sister's college turned out to be better in basic science, and she switched to biochemistry. Again influenced by her, Toshio decided to go into scientific research. Also, one of their aunts was a chemist and an uncle a physicist, so they had been exposed to science for a long time. While in vet school Tsukiyama met the woman who is still his girlfriend; she currently lives in California, and she and Toshio take turns visiting each other. While at vet school, Toshio read an article he found very interesting, and he decided he wanted to study with its author, Ohtsura Niwa, at Hiroshima University. He met Niwa and persuaded him to accept him as his student. Niwa had obtained his PhD from Stanford University, so he was familiar with the American course of study; he made Toshio read and present books and articles, something the Japanese did not do. He also influenced Toshio to come to the United States for his postdoc, which he did at Whitehead Center for Biomedical Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There he worked on chromatin remodeling in Carl Wu's lab. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, hired him as an associate member. He also has an affiliate assistant professorship at the University of Washington. He continues his research in molecular biology on the regulation of chromatin structure and its effect on cellular processes. He likes to read, to do outdoor things with his girlfriend (currently gardening), to teach, and to think about—though to leave to others to adapt—the practical or clinical applications of his research. Upon hearing that Toshio was going to the United States to study, a friend told Toshio that he would not come back to Japan, and Toshio is still here.
Hao Wu's oral history begins with a discussion of her childhood in China, during which her family was separated and forced to relocate to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Despite the difficulties associated with such turmoil, including the death of her father, Wu excelled in school. She consistently ranked highest in her class, and on the National College Entrance Exam she ranked fifth of all test-takers in the city of Beijing. Wu enrolled in Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, a highly selective, combined eight year bachelor's and medical degree program founded by the Rockefeller Foundation. While there she took courses taught in English and a semester of Immunology research which piqued her interest in laboratory work, leading her away from the clinical world of medicine. At an international biochemistry meeting, Wu discovered the structural biology research of Michael Rossmann, research that would ultimately bring her to the United States. After some difficulty obtaining her visa, Wu began the PhD program at Purdue University joining Rossmann's laboratory. Her research on canine parvovirus crystals brought her to the University of Kentucky and also to Norwich, England briefly. Additionally Wu worked on a Fortran computational modeling program during her graduate studies. While at Purdue, Wu met a colleague she later married, though she quickly discovered that he did not share her views about science or appreciate the difficulty of balancing family life and research. Wu chose her postdoctoral position at Columbia University with Wayne A. Hendrickson because her partner's job was in Connecticut. Wu's research on CD4 and HCG led to multiple publications including a 1997 Nature paper. Although Wu considered becoming a Research Assistant instead of a PI, after she solved the structure of CD4 she decided to test the job market and ultimately joined the faculty at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Staying in New York City did not disrupt her children's education and allowed Wu to take advantage of the large structural biology community within the city. Shortly after beginning at Cornell, Wu received the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Award. This fellowship helped her solve structures and perform the initial work necessary in order to receive a National Institutes of Health grant. During the oral history, Wu discussed her research group's work on TRAF and AIF and the difficulties associated with the funding of crystallographic research. She also touched on the current struggle between basic and translational science; competition from other laboratories; the complexities of balancing family and work; and the difficulties women in science face. At many points throughout the interview Wu returned the discussion to China and its ascendancy with respect to science, her own educational experiences there, and the teaching she now does in China.