Recorded: 22 Aug 2008
I decided to be a scientist sort of accidentally. I was always interested in chemistry because my high school teacher was the chemistry teacher. And every morning, 15 minutes every day, for 4 years we sat in chemistry lab and had all kinds of wonderful exploding reagents in front of us we could make trouble with. Today of course all those acids and bases have been removed from high school laboratories so you can’t have any fun and probably turning out less chemists. But it was fascinating being able to actually mix, you know, sulfuric acid with sodium hydroxide, and get all kinds of crazy things happening. And I got very interested in chemistry and wondered what could be done with chemistry. And they had a back-to-school night at my high school, big public high school near Chicago. And there were two things you could do with chemistry according to the presentations that night. One was to be a chemical engineer, and a chemical engineer who presented…that was like big pictures of vats and pipes, and sound pretty boring. And then there was a doctor who talked about being a doctor and how you used science in medicine. I’m not sure he’s absolutely accurate. I decided to use science somehow. I could be a doctor. I didn’t know it was possible to be a professional scientist. I’d never met anybody who had was a scientist. So I went to Harvard as a premedical student as many people do. Because I was a premedical student I had to take all these assigned science courses. Although they weren’t really very interesting. I just had to do them and get good grades. And especially uninspiring were the laboratories. To this day I still wonder why we do those cookbook laboratories. And in my third year of Harvard after taking 2 ½ years of every kind of laboratory you could imagine, I was three days a week, every afternoon in the laboratory doing chemistry, or biology, or physics laboratories I finally decided I couldn’t stand these laboratories any more. It was the second half of physical chemistry, which I really liked the course but I said… I would like to take the course and drop the laboratory. And they wouldn’t let me do that unless I did something called Independent Study which I didn’t know was a possibility. And that got me into a research laboratory. It was actually the research laboratory of Paul Doty, with whom I eventually did a Ph.D. degree. But I was working with one of his postdocs, Jacques Fresco, who at that time was also my tutor assigned at Harvard College. That’s how I got into that laboratory.
Bruce Alberts, currently Editor-in-chief of Science, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the University of California and United States Science Envoy. He received A.B. (1960) in Biochemical Science from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ph.D. (1965) from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1966 he joined Department of Chemistry at the Princeton University and after 10 years he became professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the UCSF.
Alberts work is best known for his work on the protein complexes that allow chromosomes to be replicated. He is one of the authors of The Molecular Biology of the Cell, a major textbook in the field. He served two-six years terms as a president of National Academy of Science (1993-2005). During his administration at NAS, he was involved in developing the landmark of National Science Education standards.
Among many honors and awards (16 honorary degrees), he is Co-chair of the InterAcademy Council and a trustee of Gordon and Betty Moore Fundation.
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