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My first bit of scientific research


Getting into science
Gerald Edelman Scientist
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I mentioned the fact that I was interested in gadgets; I was particularly interested in building model airplanes – indeed, even radio-controlled airplanes – and in those days the technology was not up to what it is today and so the... these radio-controlled airplanes were not small; they had wing-spreads up to eight to ten feet, some of them. But I can't really attribute it to that. I do remember reading some remarkable essays – for example, Faraday's essay on the candle, you know. Faraday was in fact in the British Institution, also a remarkable lecturer, following his mentor Sir Humphrey Davy, and I remember being very influenced by that, struck by that, amidst all my other reading. But it wasn't until college that it struck me that I'd better not do music, I'd better get into something else, and I decided I'd get into scientific research. Well, when I thought about it – and I did think about it a lot but in a very parochial way – I thought that I'd have to become a doctor like my father. That of course was an error in a certain sense because I didn't realize at the time that research was broader than simply an application of medical precept. Nonetheless I did go to... to medical school; that was the University of Pennsylvania, but I should backtrack and tell you that I had gotten into a small college thanks to my sister who was a bridge player and was a friend of the Dean who was a bridge fiend.

US biologist Gerald Edelman (1929-2014) successfully constructed a precise model of an antibody, a protein used by the body to neutralise harmful bacteria or viruses and it was this work that won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1972 jointly with Rodney R Porter. He then turned his attention to neuroscience, focusing on neural Darwinism, an influential theory of brain function.

Listeners: Ralph J. Greenspan

Dr. Greenspan has worked on the genetic and neurobiological basis of behavior in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) almost since the inception of the field, studying with one of its founders, Jeffery Hall, at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where he received his Ph.D. in biology in 1979. He subsequently taught and conducted research at Princeton University and New York University where he ran the W.M. Keck Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, relocating to San Diego in 1997 to become a Senior Fellow in Experimental Neurobiology at The Neurosciences Institute. Dr. Greenspan’s research accomplishments include studies of physiological and behavioral consequences of mutations in a neurotransmitter system affecting one of the brain's principal chemical signals, studies making highly localized genetic alterations in the nervous system to alter behavior, molecular identification of genes causing naturally occurring variation in behavior, and the demonstration that the fly has sleep-like and attention-like behavior similar to that of mammals. Dr. Greenspan has been awarded fellowships from the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, the Searle Scholars Program, the McKnight Foundation, the Sloan Foundation and the Klingenstein Foundation. In addition to authoring research papers in journals such as "Science", "Nature", "Cell", "Neuron", and "Current Biology", he is also author of an article on the subject of genes and behavior for "Scientific American" and several books, including "Genetic Neurobiology" with Jeffrey Hall and William Harris, "Flexibility and Constraint in Behavioral Systems" with C.P. Kyriacou, and "Fly Pushing: The Theory and Practice of Drosophila Genetics", which has become a standard work in all fruit fly laboratories.

Tags: University of Pennsylvania, Michael Faraday, Humphrey Davy

Duration: 1 minute, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008