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A dual life between New York and Louvain


Joining the Rockefeller Institute
Christian de Duve Scientist
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When I visited George Palade I told him... I said, 'I wish... I wish I could join the Rockefeller Institute', which is the Mecca of cell biology in those days. It had everything that an investigator could dream of – facilities, relatively easy money, and, especially, a... a collection of absolutely first-class scientists with whom you could communicate, with whom you could discuss things, a very small group of selected graduate students. I mean, to me it was the Mecca. And so I said this to George and he looked at me with a strange look in his face; he said, 'Do you mean that?' I said, 'Yes, I mean that.' A few months later, Det Bronk, who at that time was a very famous scientist – he was the president of what was still called the Rockefeller Institute, but he called it... changed it to Rockefeller University, taking graduate students which they didn't do before. Det Bronk who had been, before that, the president of the National Academy of Sciences – I mean, he was a really prominent man – actually took an aeroplane and came to Belgium and offered me a job, a lab at Rockefeller. I was overwhelmed, of course, and I went to see the rector of the Catholic University of Louvain where I worked, and then suddenly, as often happens, he discovered that, maybe, it was a pity to lose me – that I was something of an asset to his university – and so he started... he started insisting, 'Can't you possibly stay, at least part time? You won't have to teach, you won't have to take examinations, etc, etc.' And since my family was in Belgium and it was a little difficult to move them to the States at that time, I... I said, 'Well, let's find out.' And so he invited Det Bronk for dinner and he gave him the kind of dinner and wine that only a Catholic Bishop can... can muster and so, eventually, they agreed... they made a compromise... agreement that for five years I would share my time between New York and Louvain and that, after that, I would become permanently established in New York.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Rockefeller Institute, Rockefeller University, National Academy of Sciences, George Palade, Detlev Bronk

Duration: 2 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008