Edwin R. Chapman

Born: December 31, 1969 | Bellingham, WA, US

Edwin R. Chapman grew up in Bellingham, Washington, the youngest of four children. From an early age Chapman was interested in science, especially chemistry. After graduating from the Bellingham public schools, he applied to his hometown college, Western Washington University. He discovered there the joys of academics in an organic chemistry class taught by Donald Pavia, whom he considers the best lecturer he has ever encountered; he credits Dr. Pavia, and other lecturers from this period, for setting the stage for graduate studies. After obtaining his bachelors degree, Chapman spent two years as a lab technician, designing HIV assays at Genetic Systems in Seattle. After this experience, he then went to graduate school. Fascinated by the workings of the brain, he decided to work with Dan Storm in the department of pharmacology. Wanting to continue his neuroscience studies, he accepted a Howard Hughes Medical Institute award for a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale in the lab of Reinhard Jahn. After four years Chapman accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is now a full professor. He discusses his funding history and explains how he set up and manages his lab. He goes on to talk about funding in general; writing grants; peer review system; his professional duties; his current research on synaptic transmission, membrane fusion, and neurotoxins; tenure; teaching and travel commitments; educating people in science. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0608
No. of pages: 103
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

Karen A. Frenkel
5-7 December 2005
Medical School of the University of Wisconsin Madison, Wisconsin

Abstract of Interview

Edwin R. Chapman grew up in Bellingham, Washington, the youngest of four children. His father taught drafting and shop in high school, and his mother stayed at home to raise the children. From an early age Chapman was interested in science, especially in chemistry. He had chemistry sets and a buddy whose father was a pharmacist and who had access to recipes and chemicals; as a result, Chapman set his room on fire several times. His parents were devout Lutherans, but Chapman found religion "didn't make sense" even then. His maternal grandmother came from Romania and had thirteen children; his grandfather came also from Eastern Europe, but it is not clear from exactly where. The thirteen children all had large families, so Chapman has dozens of cousins. Chapman recalls his education in the Bellingham public schools as being unusual and very good, though not especially challenging. He was interested in marine biology, rock collecting, and taking things apart. His father worked construction during summers, and he taught Chapman to do many things around the house. The elder Chapman built a wood lathe, now sixty-one years old, and the two still work together with it. Following, as Chapman says, the path of least resistance, he decided to go to college, and for the same reason he applied to his hometown college, Western Washington University. He discovered there the joy of academic hard work in an organic chemistry class taught by Donald Pavia, whom he considers the best lecturer he has ever encountered. He recently went back to Western Washington University to give a talk and was grateful to show his professors how well he had done because of them. Although the school's emphasis was on classroom teaching, Chapman did his first lab research in the lab of Donald Schwemmin, whom he also remembers fondly. He was yard man at a rental store to support himself during college. For two years after graduation, still not sure what he wanted to do, Chapman worked as a lab technician, designing HIV assays, at Genetic Systems in Seattle. Not wanting to "dead end" there, he realized he needed a PhD , so again "following the path of least resistance" he attended the University of Washington, working in Daniel Storm's lab. Fascinated by the workings of the brain, he decided on pharmacology. Wanting to continue his neuroscience studies, he accepted a Howard Hughes Medical Institute award for a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale in the lab of Reinhard Jahn. Himself a sociable man, Chapman found there people with whom to enjoy talking science and to collaborate. Chapman here compares Jahn's mentoring style and lab management with his own; he then discusses competition and collaboration in science; publishing; his own advice to students. After four years Chapman accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is now a full professor. He discusses his funding history and explains how he set up and manages his lab. He goes on to talk about funding in general; writing grants; peer review system; his professional duties; his current research on membrane fusion, synaptic transmission, and neurotoxins; tenure; teaching and travel commitments; educating people in science. He talks about his Chinese students and his impressions of China, and about foreign students in general. His fascination with the brain has resulted in a practical application: his obsession with listening to music on "high-end audio;" this he explains as changing the brain by training it. Chapman describes his future research in the relationship between presynaptic function and behavior and memory; and practical applications of his work, including his collaboration with Meyer Jackson; his view of the qualities of a good scientist; and his professional and personal goals.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1985 Western Washington University BS Chemical Biology
1992 University of Washington PhD Pharmacology

Professional Experience

Genetic Systems, Inc.

1985 to 1987
Research Technician II

Yale University

1992 to 1996
Postdoctoral Fellow, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, with Dr. Reinhard Jahn

University of Wisconsin, Madison

1996 to 2001
Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology
2001 to 2005
Associate Professor, Department of Physiology
2005 to 2016
Professor, Department of Physiology
2005 to 2016
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981 to 1985

Deans List, Western Washington University

1985

Sea Bong Chang Memorial Chemistry Scholarship, WesternWashington University

1988 to 1991

Molecular and Cellular Biology Training Grant, University ofWashington

1992 to 1996

Howard Hughes Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University

1996

University of Wisconsin/Howard Hughes Medical Institute Career Development Award

1996

University of Wisconsin/Howard Hughes Medical Institute Infomatics Award

1996

Hilldale, UW-Bookstore, and HHMI Awards (undergraduate)

1998

Shaw Scientists Award

1999

Dave McClain American Heart Research Award

1993 to 2016

Pew Scholars Award

2004

Romnes Fellow

Table of Contents

Childhood, College and Work in Industry
1

Childhood interests and experiences. Parents. Religion. Family background. Parental expectations. Early schooling. Attending high school in Bellingham,Washington. Influential high-school math teacher. Attends Western WashingtonUniversity. Learns how to think and study in an organic chemistry class taughtby Donald L. Pavia. Research experience during college. Works in industry atGenetic Systems in Seattle. College jobs.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Fellowship
17

Job at Genetic Systems. Decision to pursue a PhD at the University ofWashington. Graduate advisor's mentoring style. Postdoctoral fellowship with Reinhard Jahn. Reasons for pursuing a doctorate in pharmacology. Conductingscientific research. Graduate program at University of Washington. Doctoralresearch in neurobiology studying neuromodulin. Mentoring style. Writing journal articles in the Jahn lab. Competition and collaboration in science.

Becoming Faculty
31

Advice given to students. Accepts a position at the University of Wisconsin,Madison. Funding history. Setting up lab. Running lab. National researchfunding levels. grant-writing process. Duties to professional community. Peer-review system. Current research on neurotoxin receptors. Balancing social life and career. Tenure at the University of Wisconsin. Hobbies.

Reflections on the Life of a Scientist and the Scientific Life
61

Interest in music. More on hobbies. Source of ideas. Travel commitments. Impressions of China. Chinese graduate students. Foreign students as sciencegraduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Teaching responsibilities. Settingthe national science agenda. Educating the public in science. Research inneurophysiology on presynaptic plasticity. Future research in the relationshipbetween presynaptic function and behavior and memory. Practical applicationsof research. Patents. Competition in science. Collaboration with Meyer Jackson. Qualities of a good scientist. Professional goals

Index
100

About the Interviewer

Karen A. Frenkel

Karen A. Frenkel is a writer, documentary producer, and author specializing in science and technology and their impacts on society. She wrote Robots: Machines in Man’s Image (Harmony 1985) with Isaac Asimov. Her articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including The New York TimesCyberTimesBusiness Week, Communications Magazine, DiscoverForbesNew Media, Personal Computing, Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, The Village Voice, and Technology Review. Ms. Frenkel’s award-winning documentary films, Net Learning and Minerva’s Machine: Women and Computing aired on Public Television. She has been an interviewer for Columbia University’s Oral History Research Center’s 9/11 Narrative and Memory project, The National Press Foundation’s Oral History of Women in Journalism, and the International Psychoanalytic Institute for Training and Research’s Oral History. Professional memberships include: The Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers, Writer’s Guild of America East, and New York Women in Film and Television: Past Member of the Board and Director of Programming. Her website is www.Karenafrenkel.com.