Recorded: 09 Apr 2001
He seemed quite young but, what it really was: it was an impression of what he was talking about, more than him. He was a vehicle for telling you the most exciting thing you have ever heard in your whole life, which was about this new science, which was clearly going to be the explanation of every mystery that you had ever wondered about, in a way. About life: What is it? What is life? How does it replicate itself to make others look just like itself? What does it mean to be human as opposed to some other species? How do we think? What are diseases about? Everything was somehow in DNA. You could kind of get the sense of that and just out of this one hour [lecture]. He was so excited himself and so, of course, it was just like the essence of this science was being—spinning out right in front of your eyes. You had to sit in the front of the room to get this essence, though, because he had this peculiar habit of telling you something and getting you all [excited]. And you’re waiting for the answer. And then he’d turn to the blackboard and then kind of whisper it to the blackboard. So you would be there, leaning forward, waiting, waiting. And if you were at the front, you got it—but if you were in the back, you might have missed the answer to life.
It was an extraordinary and completely life changing and thrilling thing to be there. I was too young to know really who was Jim Watson and really what it meant in any global sense. But the excitement of it and the fact that it had the potential to change the way we understood life was clear even to an undergraduate. It kind of went over us with careers and science, and all that. We had no idea, but the excitement was clear.
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.