Leroy Hood on Becoming a Scientist
  Leroy Hood     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2003

Well, I grew up in Montana. I went to high school in a small town that had about 150 people in the high school. And I had three of the most remarkable teachers I had in my entire educational career, a chemist, a mathematician, and a social studies and history teacher. And they collectively treated me as an equal and for the first time I began to realize what scholarship was and what science was and those kinds of things.

I think two events were really signal for me. One was, my senior year the chemistry teacher asked if I’d help teach biology to the sophomores. So I did and I did it by reading Scientific American and giving lectures on those topics. And I learned an enormous of biology as you do when you teach. And it really convinced me that this was a very, very exciting area.

But the second event that really had a big impact is that my grandfather managed a camp, a summer camp for geologists from Harvard and Columbia and Yale in southwestern Montana. And I worked there for three years during high schools summers and got to work for a lot of these people and actually took some of the courses with undergraduates from those institutions. And that’s where I got really excited about science as kind of an intellectual endeavor. And seeing the professors and the students and their interactions and their excitement really did turn me on. It was really biology that I wanted to go into and what was interesting is that the chemistry teacher in high school actually had been at Caltech during World War II as a meteorologist. So he really had decided that Caltech was the only place that I should go.

And I’d never heard of Caltech, and my parent’s weren’t really sure they could afford to have me go to Caltech. But he persisted and in the end I went to Caltech. And that was an incredibly important start for my career in several ways. One, Caltech gave me this wonderful quantitative background which has been important for the biology I’ve done and number two, I met incredible students. I mean the Caltech students are among the most competitive and best in the country. And they were just really remarkable. And number three: the professors; I mean Caltech was a very, very small school so you could work for kind of anybody you wanted to work with and most professors had time to talk with undergraduates. So it was just this intimate introduction to science in that kind of best possible way.

Leroy Hood, a leading scientist in molecular biotechnology and genomics, received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medical School (1964) and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Caltech (1968). In 1992, after more than 20 years as a faculty member at Caltech, where he and his colleagues revolutionized genomics by developing automated DNA sequencing, he relocated to the University of Washington to establish the cross-disciplinary Department of Molecular Biotechnology.

Dr. Hood is currently President of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle where he leads efforts to pioneer systems approaches to biology and medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Lasker Award for his studies on the mechanism of immune diversity.

Sharing an interest in the study of antibody diversity, Hood and Watson met in 1967 when Hood attended his first meeting at CSHL. Leroy has been working on the genome since the late 70’s. He went to the first official genome meeting in Santa Cruz in 1985 and has attended all of the subsequent meetings which have been held at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

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