Bruce Alberts on Jim Watson & CSHL
  Bruce Alberts     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Aug 2008

Cold Spring Harbor at that time basically looked a place run by a scientist. Everything was falling apart. I think they took pride in the fact that it was ugly and dilapidated. And then comes Jim Watson as director and it’s just the complete opposite. He’s worrying about getting the right kind of architects to design buildings. Who ever heard of this? This is nuts. And it costs money anyway. And then worrying about the grass, I mean all the things scientists disdain. I mean we hate grass. All these things were superficial. Jim as a great scientist is so unique in that he cares about these aesthetic things and you know…I …there aren’t many scientists that would build buildings that had to be beautiful. They just build buildings that were functional. And so, anyway, I think we all thought that Jim with his grandiose dream of Cold Spring Harbor, turning this dilapidated group of old shacks into you know, what it turned into today. Which is totally different, nothing like it. I mean we thought this was sort of crazy. I mean it was a crazy dream, and sort of wouldn’t work, and it would waste money. And I still remember the design of this sewage building he was getting…and it had to look beautiful this sewage building. Anyway so, Jim…think of Jim as a fundraiser? You wouldn’t think he could raise a penny cause he, he’s, you know, he’s not that slick kind of personality that you usually think of. He raised I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of dollars for Cold Spring Harbor. Moreover he enjoys it. I mean he enjoys raising money from people. So Jim is not your normal kind of scientist. He’s a great scientist who also has a different kind of value system. He likes talking to rich people, most of us hate talking to rich people. He likes raising money. He likes, you know playing tennis with beautiful women. And all these kinds of things that if any of us liked them we would never admit it, because it’s sort of the opposite of the scientific ethic. So I guess you know, Jim was sort of above all that. And I have to attribute some of his artistic talent to Liz who really is that kind of a person. So I think this marriage had a lot to do with the way that Cold Spring Harbor turned out. And just looking at the, you know, what happened there over the years it seems just unbelievable that it could happen because it took so many unimaginable resources, sort of energy to get that done. So the Lab is a great tribute to Jim, I mean just…and the idea that you could keep some of the very best scientists there without tenure, 5 year rolling contracts. He started a graduate school; he started a graduate school at a time when Shirley Tilghman had published a major report from the Academy which said we should not have anymore graduate programs. And they managed to make to make that quite a unique graduate school, very much in Jim’s tradition. I don’t know how much he had to do with it, but he had a lot to do with hiring the people who made it happen. So the spirit of that place is very much creative and anything’s possible, you know…science is wonderful and we’ll always find the resources to do anything we want, which is not the way most of us think. So I think Jim… the lab today is Jim. It’s a great tribute to his energy, perseverance, and his vision.

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.

More Information: Wikipedia, UCSF