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How I got into Harvard

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Transformed by my time at Erasmus Hall
Eric Kandel Scientist
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The Yeshivah Flatbush did not have a high school in those days. It had a night school that carried you forward a little bit so you had to go to regular high school, and Erasmus Hall High School was in my neighborhood. A wonderful high school. And I convinced my parents after a while that going to day school and going to night school was more than I could handle. And Erasmus was one of those great liberating experiences, for me just absolutely transformative.

For the first time I felt free of Lewis. Lewis was extraordinary in this period. So when we came to America, Lewis went to the high school for specialty trades. He was a brilliant student, so he could learn a trade and earn some money and he learned printing, and he worked in a printer’s shop. And then he was drafted into the Second World War, and he fought in the army. And the refugees who served in the army loved the experience. They were made citizens right away, they got the GI Bill of Rights, so he stayed in the reserve, and later used the GI Bill of Rights to go to graduate school to study German literature.

I found myself at Erasmus. I found myself free of him. I found that I was good at sports, I was a good runner - one thing Jews learned in Vienna was how to run! And I became, more through I think my charm than my skill, co-captain of the Erasmus Hall track team with my friend Ronald Berman who had less charm, but infinitely more skill. He was an extraordinary runner. And we won a number of relays, one-mile relays. The Seton Hall Relays, the Penn Relays. He won the city championship in the half mile, I placed fifth. This was right across the street from here in the armory.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Erasmus Hall High School, Ludwig Kandel, Ronald Berman

Duration: 1 minute, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016