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My PhD period with the phage group


Salvador Luria and how Indiana University reacted to his bluntness
James Watson Scientist
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He was very important, and the term then was genetics and micro-organisms. It was, you know, multiply fast you could get answers in a day instead of maybe a year, you know, you could grind them up and the active molecules were just there sitting for you to study. Then I was his only student, was very important that I became his student before the first child was born. He married a... Zella Hurwitz, whose brother, Jerry Hurwitz, became quite a good biochemist and he... competing against Arthur Kornberg and never quite being... getting the respect.

I remember Jerry because he couldn't get into medical school because he was Jewish, and so became a... so many good Jewish biochemists are there because of discrimination, careful. This was, you know, the period just after the war, and some of them must have gone to Indiana, Jews from Brooklyn College or something, you know, New York Jews, because of Skinner... was in the psychology department in Indiana. So, Indiana had made a real effort in the late '20s, late '30s, to change itself from being a Southern provincial college to actually trying to be a major school, all because of two men, the dean and the president Hermie Wells. And so yeah, in the end it was really a good school. I don't think it is today, but then, you know, there is a... I mean, I don't want to say something bad about any of them, but you know, it sort of went up, and then you know, isn't in the same league as Illinois now or Michigan or Wisconsin. But they've had a series of uninspiring presidents. You can't really survive, you know, ten presidents in a row who don't live by ideas. Sets the tone.

[Q] And now, you were treated as a colleague and an independent scientist right from the start?

Yes, and that was partly, you know, because of Delbrück and theoretical physics. You came into it very early. You didn't work for someone else, you might work with someone in solving a problem, but you certainly didn't work for... underneath someone. So, the spirit of the phage forum was Delbrück wanted to be like Copenhagen in 1930. So that I really benefited from, you know, when Delbrück and Gamow were trying to sit in the front row when they were 22.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Tags: Indiana University, Salvador Luria, Jerry Hurwitz, Hermie Wells, Max Delbrück

Duration: 3 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010