Recorded: 01 Jun 2001
Harry Noller: It’s all part of the same thing. Our output as scientists is teaching and publishing papers and giving talks. It’s part of what we do. Scientists who don’t teach are missing part of science. I always learn something every time I teach. Every fall I have my lecture. It’s the same course I’ve been teaching since Winship was there. I think, “Oh God, you know, I’m going to teach this course again.” But every fall, there’s a couple of times during the quarter, when a student asks a question, a so-called stupid question, that makes me think things from the ground up. And I realize that I, there’s something that I completely missed or I haven’t thought about it in this way, and I come out of there thinking about something totally new. It’s all part of the same thing.
Winship Herr: I should say something that had a big impact on me. When I was in Harry’s course, this was at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and that’s – it’s a very groovy school. I mean, we didn’t have grades; we were meant to think, we weren’t mean to just memorize things—textbooks and stuff. And as I’ve described already, Harry’s course was one of the most thought-provoking courses that I took and yet for a test, for a midterm test, he said we had to memorize the structure of all the amino acids and the bases. And to this day, I remember I was sort of sitting in the back of the room as I recall. But anyway, I raised my hand and asked, “Oh, come on! Why do you have to memorize amino acids? Well, that’s just rote stuff.” He said, “You have to, because sometime you’re going to be in a seminar and someone is going to talk about a serine and you’re going to want to know what the properties of that amino acid are.” And I said, “Absolutely,” and I learned them and I tell everybody the same story; I get them to learn the structure of the amino acids.
Harry Noller: Well, I mean, it’s your toolkit, as a biochemist or a molecular biologist. It’s not “Why do we have to memorize all?” It’s “You only have to memorize twenty amino acids and four bases or nucleotides and you’re done!” Then all biology is at your fingertips. It’s very hard to [understand the importance of memorizing the structures]. You got it, but not all the students appreciate that. A lot of our graduate students now, not only in our department but everywhere really, could not draw a base pair, and they work on DNA.
Winship Herr, director of the University of Lausanne School of Biology and member of EMBO. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California in 1974 and Ph.D. for studies on recombinant retroviruses in leukemogenic mice with Walter Gilbert from Harvard University in 1982. He completed his postdoctoral research studies in Cambridge (England) with Frederick Sanger and with Joe Sambrook in Cold Spring Harbor. After that he joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory faculty in 1984. From 1994 till 2002 he was an assistant director of the Laboratory and founding dean of the Watson School of Biological Sciences from 1998 till 2004. He is a professor of the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne.
Winship Herr is a former National Science Foundation predoctoral fellow, Rita Allen Foundation Scholar, Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow, and Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Biological Sciences.
Harry Noller, is best known for his work on on ribosomal RNA structure and function, currently the director of the University of California, Santa Cruz's Center for the Molecular Biology of RNA. He received his B.S. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Oregon.
He received the Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Sciences together with Drs. Moore and Steitz for their research on the ribosome. Harry Noller has been awarded Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize granted by the Paul Ehrlich Foundation.
He is a member of National Academy of Science, RNA Society and American Academy of Art and Science.