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The division of the Catholic University of Louvain
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Well, I decided, for all those reasons, that it was the duty of basic investigator devoting his life to fundamental research also to participate in applications. And I felt this was particularly important because the technologies, the instrumentations, had become so complicated that only those who were doing that kind of research were able... had the means to actually participate in development. I mean, you couldn't ask a clinical investigator to just take whatever we had in terms of lysosome functions, that we knew about, and he would just translate this knowledge into an application. Same thing with a pharmaceutical chemist. So, in fact, because we... we knew the techniques and we knew how to study these increasingly complicated objects and this, of course, with development of molecular biology became even more evident; unless the investigators working in the field participated there would never be useful applications. And so that was the sort of philosophical conviction that I reached in the late 1960s.

Now, in Belgium and in my... Louvain University in particular, 1968 is also a historical date because it's the date when the division of the Catholic University of Louvain into two separate independent universities was decided. For reasons peculiar to Belgian politics it was decided that teaching in French on Flemish soil – that is, the city of Louvain – was not to be allowed. I should mention that until then Louvain had been bilingual; it had started as a French-speaking... Latin to begin with, but Latin and then French, and by the time I was a student most of the courses were taught in the two languages, sometimes by the same professor. Bouckaert, for instance, taught his courses in French and Flemish. But, eventually, when I was a young professor, the teachings were more or less separated; there were professors for the two languages – different professors for the two languages – but we still had single faculties. The medical faculty included the French and the Flemish speaking professor, and so we also always spoke French at those meetings, because the Flemish understood French, but the French-speaking didn't understand Flemish. So, eventually, for very valid reasons, the Flemish said, ‘We want our own faculty’, so the faculties were separated, but the university remained unitary, and eventually the whole splitting of the university was decided – not only the splitting into two independent universities, but the departure of the French-speaking university from the city of Louvain because, as I mentioned before, teaching in French on Flemish soil was not to be tolerated. Strange vision, but anyway.

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: Catholic University of Louvain

Duration: 3 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008