Recorded: 01 Jun 2003
I knew Max Delbrück in three different incarnations at Caltech. I was an undergraduate there. Later I was a graduate student and then for twenty-two years I was a faculty member.
So as an undergraduate Delbrück was an enormously intimidating teacher. He was demanding. Every year he taught a new and different course. And this was generally acknowledged to be perhaps the most difficult and the most challenging course in biology. And only the bravest of undergraduates would ever, ever think about sitting in on the course.
But from the point of view of a student I saw him as this intellectual scientific giant who basically was enormously respected by everyone. As a graduate student he then had moved into his phycomyces stage and I think he’d become very, very much more human. It turned out that this project was an extremely difficult project and there was a lot of skepticism about how far it would go. And he didn’t, in the same way, have quite this domineering commanding kind of point of view, so people had a sense he was becoming much more of a human being. It was in that context that I really got to know him and I enjoyed talking with him and he always had wonderful insights and he always pushed you right to the limits of your knowledge and understanding.
And then later I went back as a faculty member and that was probably the most enjoyable aspect of my knowing Max Delbrück so on the one hand I saw him as a colleague that I interacted with and talked about many different things with. One the other hand I still saw him as a pretty harsh critic of people who couldn’t live up to his standards. I remember I one time had invited a very famous immunologist, Jan Klein, to come and give a talk at Caltech. And Jan got about three minutes into his talk when Max stood up in the middle aisle and walked out through the slides that Jan was showing. And that was his statement that either the speaker was speaking nonsense or he was speaking in jargon. In Jan Klein’s case it was in jargon. But Max was unafraid to make a statement about what he thought about people and or ideas. And I think in many ways for the, gosh, forty years he was at Caltech or so, he was kind of the heart and soul and in a sense the intellectual plumb against which many different people were tested at Caltech.
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.