Nancy Hopkins on Scientific Heroes
  Nancy Hopkins     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Apr 2001

It’s really the discoveries that stand out in my mind. The scientists, all the cast of characters of that era of time, all were extraordinary people who had this and recognized the potential of this science and came there with a passion for it. And they were extraordinary people. There are ones you become friends with and really did over a lifetime remain friends with them. But it was the discoveries, in that era; we used to call them by name: Jacob and Monod, Brenner, Benzer, McClintock. Joan Steitz is one of my heroes. So many people, really. But it was the science and the whole landscape of it that I idolized really. I think one of the things you learn as you go along: Merit in science (and this is where I came to disagree with Jim [Watson]) is not as obvious and clear-cut as I had thought when I was young. I thought, you know, you have a genius like Jim Watson. He makes a great discovery and it is all very simple. But it’s not very simple. How discoveries get made and how credit is given is a more complicated thing than I had understood when I was young. It’s really a very interactive enterprise, science. There are many contributions and there are many people whose contributions are not recognized—not recognized eagerly to how important they were even. You’d think we know that but it’s not as clear as we might think.

Nancy Hopkins is a developmental biologist and the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at MIT. Working under Jim Watson and Mark Ptashne, Hopkins earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1971. As a postdoctoral fellow she moved to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where she continued working under Watson researching DNA tumor viruses. In 1973 she joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in the Center for Cancer Research, where she researched the mechanisms of replication and leukemogenesis by RNA tumor viruses for 17 years.

Hopkins has also led an ongoing effort to end discrimination against women in science. In 1995 she was appointed Chair of the first Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT, and in 2000 she was appointed Co-Chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT. Hopkins co-authored the fourth edition of Molecular Biology of the Gene. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.