David E. Levy

Born: April 27, 1952 | Knoxville, TN, US

David E. Levy grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He was always interested in science; he had chemistry kits, built rockets, made his own chemicals for his dark room, and observed animals. He attended the University of Tennssee, studying biology, and took a job at the Laboratory in the Molecular Anatomy Program after graduation. He then worked for a year in immunologist Alan Solomon's lab at the University of Tennessee's Memorial Research Center. Excited by the confluence of chemistry and biology, he decided to become a scientist. He was accepted at CalTech and began researching immunology, then switched to Richard Lerner's lab at Scripps Research Institute, where he studied retroviruses. Next, he accepted a postdoc at Rockefeller University, where he remains an adjunct faculty member. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0567
No. of pages: 107
Minutes: 550

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
23-25 and 29 July 1997
New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

David E. Levy was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of two children. His father was a chemist, his mother a classicist; both had been living in California but were assigned to Oak Ridge National Laboratory by the federal government, his father to work on the Manhattan Project, his mother for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Employees' families could attend an annual open house at the Laboratory, but otherwise David's father did not discuss his work. Even so, David remembers always having been interested in science; he had chemistry kits, he built rockets, he made his own chemicals for his dark room, and he observed the back-yard animals. In grade school once when pupils were asked to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up, David wrote about being a scientist, though he says he doubts that he would have known what that meant. David did not investigate colleges, but entered the University of Tennessee. Interested in psychology, he took premed classes but soon changed to biology; he had almost a minor in chemistry, which he also liked. There were no experimentation classes, though they did "practicals." After graduation, still unsure what he wanted to do, David took a job at the Laboratory in the Molecular Anatomy Program (MAP), a kind of independent project established by Norman Anderson. When MAP was closed down, David worked for a year in immunologist Alan Solomon's lab at the University of Tennessee's Memorial Research Center. He had already taken some seminars at the Oak Ridge Extension branch of the University of Tennessee, and he had written two papers. During this time he realized that he wanted to be a scientist, that he was excited by the confluence of chemistry and biology. Hence, graduate school. He was accepted at California Institute of Technology, where his father had studied, and began his research into immunology in William Dreyer's lab. Not long after he switched to Richard Lerner's lab at Scripps Research Institute, where he studied retroviruses. Upon finishing his PhD he accepted a postdoc at Rockefeller University offered by James Darnell, who was working on the development of organ systems. David remains an adjunct faculty member in the Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology there; and he has added an assistant professorship at New York University, the Sackler Institute for Graduate Biomedical Sciences, and in the School of Medicine Department of Pathology, where he is now an associate professor. He established his lab to continue his research into gene expression in the liver system, hoping to discover how it is that during development different genes get turned on in different tissues; for him that is the basic question. He devotes much of the end of the interview to comparing creative thinking, independence, and funding as found at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, and Scripps Research Institute; to comparing the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award with the National Institutes of Health grants; and to his conception of the ideal department or laboratory. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1974 University of Tennessee BA
1985 California Institute of Technology PhD

Professional Experience

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

1975 to 1977
Research Assistant, Molecular Anatomy Program

University of Tennessee

1977 to 1978
Research Assistant, Memorial Research Center

The Rockefeller University

1984 to 1987
Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology
1987 to 1988
Postdoctoral Associate, Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology
1988 to 1998
Adjunct Faculty

New York University

1989 to 1998
Faculty, Sackler Institute for Graduate Biomedical Sciences

New York University School of Medicine

1988 to 1995
Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology
1995 to 1998
Associate Professor, Department of Pathology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1991 to 1995

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1992 to 1993

Whitehead Presidential Fellow, New York University

1995 to 1999

Hirschl Trust Career Scientist

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, but grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Parents' professions. One sister. Always interested in science. Chemistry kit, rockets, ecology. Bar mitzvah; otherwise not observant. Schools not very good, especially science.

College Years
24

Entered University of Tennessee. Biology major, chemistry almost-minor. No lab classes. Loved cell biology and plant physiology.

Working Years
30

Takes job at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Molecular Anatomy Program (MAP). Inventing techniques and instrumentation. Detecting environmental pollutions. Chemistry-biology nexus. MAP closes down. Research assistant at University of Tennessee Memorial Research Center.

Graduate School Years
31

Selects California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Enters William Dreyer's lab. Moves to Richard Lerner's lab at Scripps Research Institute. Chemical basis of biological phenomena. New interest in disease, so works with mammals. Michael Wilson and gv-1 gene.

Postdoc Years
66

Accepts postdoc in James Darnell's lab at Rockefeller University. Working on development of organ systems. Interferon signaling.

Faculty Years
72

Adjunct professor at Rockefeller University. Takes assistant professorship at New York University School of Medicine in Department of Pathology. Continues work on gene expression in liver system.

Thoughts
79

Comparison of universities' creativity; successful scientists; independence; funding. Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award vs. National Institutes of Health grants. An interdisciplinary approach to science. Ideal department or lab. More science for undergraduates.

Index
104

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan