Matthew Meselson on Jim Watson, Professor and Administrator
  Matthew Meselson     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jul 2002

Yes, Jim brought me here and he was here first. He came here as an assistant professor having discovered the structure of DNA. We were just emerging from the dark ages at Harvard. McGeorge Bundy, by decree, brought—made six offers to new people to change the direction of biology at Harvard.

Oh, he was wonderful! At Harvard he organized an exciting laboratory, no question. And kept the whole department, at least those who are interested in molecular biology focused on what was most current and most exciting and it was great! It was a great time here at Harvard.

Well, I think that the difference was, say, between him and Pauling, or him and Delbrück, Jim would assemble very good people because they knew pretty quickly that this was the place to be. And he could recognize who were the bright ones. So he brought together people and then had them do their stuff. Linus also attracted the best people. I don’t know much about Max’s graduate students because by the time I got to Caltech, Max had become more interested in phycomyces and the response to light and less involved himself (the people around him still involved) but less involved himself with bacteriophage genetics and molecular biology. But he was still very interested, but I didn’t remember graduate students there.

So, on that score, Pauling and Jim, I think were quite comparable. A difference was—at least, I was never a graduate student of Jim’s so I’m seeing him through a different telescope than Pauling. Pauling did like, it was always easy to get to see Pauling. And he did like to—in fact, usually, in my case at least after say an hour in Pauling’s office, I would desperately trying to figure out how can I end this conversation, cause I don’t any more ideas to talk about and he’s already exceeded the limit of my ability to assimilate what he’s talking about, I’ve got to get out of here.

Whereas with Jim, at least with me, I was never his graduate student but he’d leave before we even got started. He was out the door! So that’s a difference.

Sydney Brenner was much more like Pauling in that sense that we would talk and talk.

Matthew Meselson earned his Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago in 1951 and from the California Institute of Technology in 1957 under the tutelage of Linus Pauling.

In 1958 with Frank Stahl, Meselson experimentally showed the semi-conservative mechanism of DNA replication as predicted by Watson and Crick.

He is currently the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in Harvard University's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. His laboratory studies sexual reproduction and genetic recombination, and how and why they are maintained in evolution.

Since 1963 Meselson has been interested in chemical and biological defense and arms control, has served as a consultant on this subject to various government agencies and is a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Meselson has received the Award in Molecular Biology from the National Academy of Sciences, the Public Service Award of the Federation of American Scientists, the Presidential Award of the New York Academy of Sciences, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, and the 1995 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal of the Genetics Society of America. Dr. Meselson is presently a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

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