Peter S. Kim

Born: April 27, 1958 | Atlanta, GA, US

Peter S. Kim was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Massachusetts, Brooklyn, and New Jersey as a child. He studied chemistry at Cornell, then went to Stanford for his PhD, where he worked in Robert "Buzz" Baldwin's lab on nuclear magnetic resonance. Another interest he developed was in catalytic antibodies. He won the third Whitehead fellowship granted. In his lab at the Whitehead he developed a peptide model of a protein-folding intermediate and worked on Leucine zippers and coiled coils with his postdocs and assistants. There, he was promoted first to assistant and then to associate member. Kim also became a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an associate investigator at the Howard Hughes; he remains in all three positions today. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0484
No. of pages: 100
Minutes: 650

Interview Sessions

Steven J. Novak
23-24 and 26 May 1995
The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Peter S. Kim was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to parents who had emigrated from Korea after the Korean War and were studying at Georgia Institute of Technology. His father was a chemical engineer, his mother a biochemist. He had a sister who was several years younger. While he was still a child, his family moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where his father was a professor at the University of Massachusetts; from there they moved to Brooklyn, where Peter attended school for a few years; then they moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey, so that his father could work in New York City. Peter's mother became a high school science teacher. For a while Peter and his family attended a Korean church, but then they switched to an American Presbyterian church; here Peter discovered a love of music and began to sing. He entered Cornell University, where his chemical engineering major lasted just one semester before he switched to chemistry. He met his wife-to-be when he was a freshman. From Cornell Peter was accepted into the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at Stanford University to complete a joint MD/PhD degree. After two years of medical school Peter decided he wanted to do only research so he dropped the MD In Robert "Buzz" Baldwin's lab Peter worked on nuclear magnetic resonance to develop pulse-labeling in protein folding. Another interest he developed was in catalytic antibodies. Having decided not to finish medical school, Peter knew he had to obtain a postdoctoral position. He won the third Whitehead [Institute for Biomedical Research] fellowship granted. In his lab at the Whitehead he developed a peptide model of a protein-folding intermediate and worked on Leucine zippers and coiled coils with his postdocs and assistants. At the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research he was promoted first to assistant and then to associate member; Peter also became first an assistant and then associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an associate investigator at the Howard Hughes; he remains in all three positions today.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1979 Cornell University BA Chemistry
1985 Stanford University PhD

Professional Experience

Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

1985 to 1988
Fellow Associate
1988 to 1992
Associate Member
1992
Member

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1988 to 1992
Assistant Professor
1992 to 1995
Associate Professor
1995
Professor

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

1990 to 1993
Assistant Investigator
1993
Associate Investigator

Honors

Year(s) Award
1987 to 1988

Leonard Skeggs Chair for Whitehead Fellows

1989

Excellence in Chemistry Award, ICI Pharmaceuticals

1989

Walter J. Johnson Prize in Molecular Biology, Journal of Molecular Biology

1990 to 1992

Rita Allen Foundation Scholar

1990 to 1994

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1993

NAS Award in Molecular Biology, National Academy of Sciences USA

1994

Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1994

Dupont Merck Young Investigator Award, Protein Society

1994

Ilchun Award, Seoul National University

1995

Pfizer Animal Health Award, University of Nebraska

1995

Mack Award, Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Georgia but moved to Massachusetts and then New York City. Close Korean family with strong male dominance. Father deserts family and mother raises Peter and his sister alone. Discovers love of music in church. Both children play piano,and Peter sings. Skips grade, likes school, thinks his schools good.

College Years
11

Matriculates at Cornell University. Korean friends in college emphasize heritage. Meets future wife, Kathryn Spitzerwhile he is a freshman. Begins in chemical engineering program but transfers to chemistry. Works as undergraduate research assistant for George P. Hess.

Graduate Years
16

Applies to MD/PhD programs; accepted at New Jersey College of Medicine and Stanford University; goes to Stanford in Medical Scientist Training Program. Finished his first two years of medical school and decides not to complete the MD, though he found program and students excellent. Begins doing research in Robert "Buzz" Baldwin's lab, working on protein folding. Pulse-labelling intermediates. Becomes involved in private-sector company that fails. Becomes interested in catalytic antibodies.

Postgraduate Years
41

Kim's post-Ph.D. options. Establishes a lab at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Edwin C. "Jack" Whitehead and the funding of the Whitehead Institute. Lab personnel. Using antibodies to study protein structure. Foray into developmental biology. Develops a peptide model of a protein folding intermediate with Terrence G. Oas. Congenial relations of scientists in the protein folding field. Kim's work on leucine zippers and coiled coils. Viral fusion proteins. Therapeutic potential of peptides

Continuing at Whitehead
71

The lab's funding. Teaching. Admiration for David Baltimore and Arthur Kornberg. Colleagues at the Whitehead. Dissecting proteins efficiently. Developing computational methods to predict protein structures. Effects of computer modeling on structural biology. Importance of being able to visualize biochemical structures. Conditions new pharmaceuticals must meet. Need for new and more sophisticated drugs. Kim's involvement in various biotechnology companies. Use of phage technology to increase the therapeutic potential of peptides.

Scientific Conflicts and Legal Implications
89

David Baltimore and the investigation of Thereza Imanishi-Kari's alleged fraud. Kim's conflict with Thomas E. Creighton over divergent research results.

Index
96

About the Interviewer

Steven J. Novak