Anthony M.C. Brown

Born: November 19, 1954 | London, GB

Anthony Brown attended Cranleigh School, where his interest in science evolved past the “inevitable chemistry set.” At the University of Cambridge he found chemistry dull but liked genetics and the history and philosophy of science. He decided to spend his third year in genetics. Two laboratory experiences and a brief foray into the “real world” convinced Brown he wanted to do science, so he entered a PhD program at the University of Edinburgh. Brown spent two postdoctoral years in Pierre Chambon’s lab at the Institute for Genetics and Cellular and Molecular Biology in Strasbourg, France, and three years in Harold Varmus’ lab at University of California, San Francisco. At this point he was ready for his own lab and was being recruited by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, England. He sought competing offers and found Cornell University’s to be the best match. His work is moving toward developmental biology; he hopes in the future to understand differentiation pathways better.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0766
No. of pages: 16
Minutes: 105

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and Richard Sawyer
8 March 1990
Coral Gables, Florida

Abstract of Interview

Anthony Brown was one of two sons of a father in the Royal Navy and a mother of Armenian descent who spoke several languages. The family lived in a number of places primarily on the south coast of England. Brown attended Cranleigh School, where his interest in science evolved past the “inevitable chemistry set.” The British system of education required that he study three related subjects, so he reluctantly gave up history. At the University of Cambridge he found chemistry dull but liked genetics and the history and philosophy of science. He decided to spend his third year in genetics. Two laboratory experiences and a brief foray into the “real world” convinced Brown he wanted to do science, so he entered a PhD program at the University of Edinburgh.

Degree in hand, Brown spent two postdoctoral years in Pierre Chambon’s lab at the Institute for Genetics and Cellular and Molecular Biology in Strasbourg, France, and three years in Harold Varmus’ lab at University of California, San Francisco. At this point he was ready for his own lab and was being recruited by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in London, England. He sought competing offers and found Cornell University’s superior. Brown says science in the United States has better funding, access to more graduate students, and a smaller teaching load. His work is moving toward developmental biology; he hopes in future to understand differentiation pathways better. He likes a smaller lab, giving him some trainees and workers but not requiring ceding of control. He says the Pew meetings have given him the opportunity to learn about areas he would not otherwise have investigated, with the result that he is now working on developmental biology as well as the molecular biology of cancer. Brown finds the conflict between religion and science, as represented by Genesis and DNA, fascinating; his only religious connection is musical.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1977 University of Cambridge MA Genetics
1981 University of Edinburgh PhD Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

Institute for Genetics and Cellular and Molecular Biology

1981 to 1983
Post Doctorate

University of California, San Francisco

1984 to 1987
Post Doctorate

Weill Cornell Medical College

1989 to 1991
Assistant Professor, Cell Biology & Anatomy

Honors

Year(s) Award
1978 to 1980

Medical Research Council Postgraduate Studentship

1981 to 1983

Royal Society European Science Exchange Fellowship

1984

Medical Research Council Travelling Fellowship

1985 to 1986

Leukemia Society of America Special Fellowship

1987 to 1990

Cornell Scholars Award

1988

Andrew W. Mellon Teacher-Assistant Award

1989 to 1993

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Grew up in various places on south coast of England. One of two sons. Father in Royal Navy. Mother of Armenian descent, had grown up in France and was bilingual. Attended Cranleigh School. Became interested in science in junior school.

College Years
3

British system of education; had to choose three interrelated subjects by age of sixteen. University of Cambridge more flexible than other British universities. First two years found chemistry dull but liked genetics, history and philosophy of science. Had to choose only one subject for third and final year, chose genetics. Took time to investigate other career possibilities. Student job at Porton Down; encountered cloning. Graduate student job at Natural History Museum, studying mosquitoes. Decided to go to grad school. Attended University of Edinburgh. Medical Research Council (MRC) funding for three years; research only.

Postdoctoral Years
7

Two years in Pierre Chambon’s lab at Institute for Genetics and Cellular and Molecular Biology in Strasbourg, France. Funded by Royal Society. Three years in Harold Varmus’ lab at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). First year funded by MRC, then by Leukemia Society of America. Comparison of the labs’ size; composition; hours; management styles.

Cornell University
10

Five years of postdoctoral work; ready for his own lab. Being recruited by Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), so looked for comparison jobs. British science less good for funding and teaching. Cornell University’s offer good. Also, grants in Britain smaller, harder to obtain; heavier teaching load; rationed graduate students. Likes living circumstances.

General Observations
12

Pros of having one’s own lab: independence, flexibility, satisfaction. Cons: management responsibilities, finding good workers, obtaining funding. Moving toward developmental biology; thinks molecular biology will help him understand control of differentiation pathways. Probably remain in United States; better prospects for science than in Britain. Likes Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences meeting; opportunity to begin work on developmental biology. Likes the sharing of experiences. DNA versus Genesis. Sings in choirs; likes religious music.

Index
16

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Richard Sawyer