Recorded: 09 Apr 2001
Jim has always been stimulating, interesting, and probably intimidating. I—I’d say you, but I will make it personal—I always, when talking to Jim, want him to think well of me, and I hope that over the years that has happened. But there certainly have been times when there have been some discomforts between us and he has been a little intimidating. But despite that I’ve always felt that the support was there, and that goes way back when I wanted to go to England and work with Sydney Brenner. As far as I could tell—I’ve never gotten the complete history—but as far as I could tell, Jim contacted Sydney and said, “Take him.” And Sydney had taken me sight unseen. I had never met him. I turned up in Cambridge, and he had never seen me in his life. And I think that was Jim.
I have this feeling that there are other things that have happened in my life that have happened as a consequence of Jim, and I am never quite sure of what they are. But he seems to know an awful lot about what’s going on, and he seems to know an awful lot of people. So, I am appreciative, but it’s deeper than that. Jim really helped frame for me who I am in science and who I am in terms of my scientific interactions and that means both professionally and personally. And I’ll always appreciate that; I’ll never forget it. I would not have been able to do many of the things I’ve done without Jim’s support for now what’s over thirty years. He’s an incredible person. I’ve been lucky. Actually, I miss him. That’s something that I know I’ve said on occasion to other people. There have been times when I’ve gone to Cold Spring Harbor and he’s not there. There was one time I went to Cold Spring Harbor and he was in Boston giving a talk at Harvard and I felt that was just unfair. But I miss him in the literal sense, in those cases, and I miss him because I think in the earlier days, I did have more opportunity to spend more time with him than I’ve had of late. And I miss that. He’s special.
H. Robert Horvitz received his Ph.D. in 1974 from Harvard University, under the tutelage of Jim Watson. He joined the MIT Department of Biology faculty in 1978, and was named David Koch Professor of Biology in 2000. He is also Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and was appointed Investigator at the McGovern Institute in 2001.
Horvitz is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience. In 2002, he was award the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with Sydney Brenner and John Sulston “for their discoveries concerning 'genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death'."
Horvitz currently studies how genes control the development of the nervous system and how the nervous system controls behavior. He has elucidated a molecular genetic pathway for programmed cell death (apoptosis), which is fundamental to nervous system development in all animals.