Recorded: 03 Mar 2006
My childhood. I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, of Greek parents. At that time the country was very much under the influence of the British Empire. In fact, the first schools that I had were British. And in fact when I was a child and I was ten years old I remember I spoke English much better than I spoke Greek so my father at home had to sometimes translate my English to my mother whose English was not as good as his. So at that particular time, the dream that we had, the dream that my parents had was that we would grow up and graduate from the English high schools and then go to England and continue our education. From my early childhood I was mostly interested in science. A lot of it was mostly on the engineering side, I would say. Although, I remember also being reasonably infatuated with some aspects of biology, not the medicine part, mostly the biology of other living things and also small living things including plants.
I was born in ’47. ←move this up?
Biology was very, very primitive of course. And the biology we learned in school was extremely primitive. So my interest in biology was more in terms of hands on. Digging up ant nests or catching worms or butterflies. It was a pretty interesting ecology, of course, in Egypt. There were very many interesting species. So that in many ways captivated my interest and my imagination. Although I must be also very candid in saying that, you know, sports was also a very large part of my life. Football, what they call in this country soccer, was also dominating my life. My father was a famous soccer player so I grew up steeped in the football, the real football tradition.
I still keep it. I’m as fanatical as ever. I’m a fanatical fan of Arsenal in England and of a Greek team called AEK. My heartbeat always goes up the most when I am in a soccer game especially if it involves any of these two teams.
So I finished high school in Cairo. By that time, you know, I had to move to a Greek high school, which I finished in ’65. Then I moved to Greece to the National Technical University of Athens in Athens, Greece, which was a five-year university where I got a diploma in mechanical and electrical engineering. I was always interested in pursuing my education for advanced degrees. And at that time the only way you could actually come to the U.S. or any other place to get an advanced degree was if you focused on engineering, especially if you needed financial assistance, which was the case for me.
So I upon graduation in 1970 I had already been applying to various graduate schools in the U.S. I was admitted to the University of New Hampshire and also at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and I grabbed that opportunity and came to the U.S. in 1970 and enrolled in the graduate school of Northwestern University. In five years I earned a PhD in mechanical engineering and astronautical sciences. Even though the problems that I worked on didn’t have very much to do with engineering. They were mostly studying the problem of turbulence especially atmospheric turbulence both in the laboratory, experimentally that is, and also theoretically. And eventually also using high-speed computing and numerical methods which were just starting to come to be very prominent in the field. I got my PhD in the summer of 1975.
Ari Patrinos, currently is a president of Synthetic Genomics, Inc. He is best known for his leading roles in the development of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the U.S. Human Genome Project. He earned his undergraduate degree from the National Technical University of Athens and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and astronautical sciences from Northwestern University.
Patrinos has worked in Department of Energy (DOE) Laboratory system since 1973. His research area includes biomedical engineering, atmospheric turbulence, environmental chemistry, climate change, and statistical methods. In 1995 he became the Associate Director for Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science and was responsible for human and microbial genome programs, structural biology, nuclear medicine and health effects, global environmental change. He helped create the DOE's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in 1997 and developed the DOE's Genomes to Life Program.
He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Geophysical Union, and a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.