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America: first impressions

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Post-war journey to America
Renato Dulbecco Scientist
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In quel periodo incontravi Rita a Torino o no? No, Rita era fuggita- Era fuggita, si era rifugiata, si', a Firenze- Era a Firenze, dove si poteva nascondere, perché non era conosciuta e difatti è andato tutto bene. E Luria naturalmente era negli Stati Uniti, perché lui se n'era andato al principio della guerra, così alla fine ci siamo riuniti a Torino e questo è stato un altro elemento chiave della mia vita. Quando eravamo all'istituto di Levi, dove io appunto alla fine della guerra ero ritornato, abbandonando la politica, che non mi interessava più, ed era l'istituto di Levi- e c'ero io e Rita, eravamo lì, ma Luria è venuto durante l'estate, era venuto a visitarci, perché era qui in Italia e voleva vedere i suoi colleghi- mi ricordo che Rita gli ha spiegato che io ero uno bravo, per cui Luria è venuto a parlarmi, dice- Cosa fai, cosa vuoi fare e io gli dicevo, spiegavo che, quello che mi sarebbe piaciuto era cercare di entrare in questo problema dei geni che non si sa cosa siano, ecc. e farlo in un modo originale. E io dico -Io mi sono già iscritto in Fisica- Ecco, questo non lo avevi detto, ti sei- Mi sono iscritto in Fisica e questo l'ho fatto perché appunto perche' volevo- pensavo che la fisica mi potesse dare dei nuovi mezzi per studiare questi geni e Luria dice- Ah, dice- Guarda, questo è esattamente quello che io faccio, perché lui anche aveva studiato un po' di fisica. Allora dice- Vieni a lavorare con me e io ho detto- Ah, senz'altro e così ho abbandonato l'Italia, ho abbandonato l'istituto di- Questo è stato allora- era nel 46- 47? 46. E purtroppo non potevo- la mia posizione era incerta, era garantito impiego per un anno, post- doc, capisci- percio' per andare lì non potevo portare la mia famiglia con me, perché non avrei potuto mantenerla, ecc, per cui mia moglie e i bambini sono rimasti lì- A Torino? No, sono rimasti lì a Imperia e io son partito. E la coincidenza era, sono partito sopra un vapore polacco, che si chiamava il Sobieski che faceva scalo a Genova, il vapore polacco che andava a New York e Quanti giorni hai impiegato con la nave? Ma, una settimana- e la coincidenza è stata che anche Rita era su questa nave, perché io andavo nell'Indiana, dove Luria aveva il suo- dove lavorava lui era professore lì- e lei invece andava a St. Louis, nel Missouri, perché le avevano offerto di andare a lavorare lì per un po' di tempo, per cui abbiamo avuto modo di parlare e discutere, ecc. durante il viaggio, cose molto interessanti. C'è una leggenda di Rita che dicono- ma non è vera, ed è stata smentita, quando dicono che Rita, la prima volta che ti ha visto all'università, questo ragazzo di 16 anni, che avevi i pantaloncini corti, no? Questo è un racconto che non è vero. Non è vero. Già avevi i pantaloni lunghi? Sì. Appena i pantaloni lunghi! Avevo deciso che bisognava che portassi i pantaloni lunghi all'università. Esatto- allora, la nave? La nave è stato un periodo anche con Rita- No, molto piacevole, si discuteva, del futuro, sai- si pensava quello che si farà Magari anche tante speranze dopo il periodo duro. Sì Della guerra- perché anche Rita aveva avuto tutte le sue disavventure.
Was it in this period that you meet Rita in Turin, or not? No, Rita had fled, she was hiding in Florence because nobody knew her there and in fact everything went well. And naturally Luria was in the United States, because he went there at the start of the war, so in the end we met up again in Turin and this was another key element in my life. When we were at Levi's institute, where I returned at the end of the war, abandoning politics, which no longer interested me, and it was Levi's institute- and there was me and Rita, we were there, but Luria came during the summer, he came to visit us, because he was here in Italy and he wanted to see his colleagues- I remember that Rita explained to him that I was a talented man, so Luria came to speak to me, he said -What are you doing, what do you want to do and I told him, I was hoping- what I would have liked was to talk about the issue of genes that we don't know what they are, etc. and do this in an original way. And I said-I have already enrolled in Physics- So you didn't say this then, you- I enrolled in Physics and I did this because I thought that physics could give new means for studying these genes and he said-Oh, this is exactly what I am doing because he had also studied some physics. So he said-Why don't you come and work with me and I said-Sure, I will and so I left Italy, I left the Department of- And this was in- in 1946, 1947? 1946. And unfortunately I couldn't- my position was uncertain, it was guaranteed work for a year, post-doc, you understand- so in order to go there I couldn't bring my family with me, because I couldn't have supported them, so my wife and children stayed there- In Turin? No, they stayed in Imperia and I left. And the coincidence was, I left on a Polish steamboat, that was called Sobieski that was making a stop at Genoa, the Polish steamboat that was going to New York and How many days did it take with the boat? A week- and the coincidence was that Rita was also on this boat, because I was going to Indiana, where Luria worked- he was a teacher there- and she was going to St. Louis, in Missouri, because she had been offered to go and work there for a while, so we were able to talk and discuss things during the journey, very interesting things. There is a story about Rita that people talk about- but it's not true, which was denied, when they say that Rita, the first time she saw you at university, this boy of 16 years, that you were wearing shorts, no? This is a story that is not true. It's not true. You were already wearing trousers? Yes. Of course trousers! I decided that I should wear trousers to university. So, the boat? The boat was also a period with Rita- No, very pleasant, we discussed the future, you know- what we thought we might do So many hopes after a difficult period. Yes With the war- because Rita had also had her misfortunes.

The Italian biologist Renato Dulbecco (1914-2012) had early success isolating a mutant of the polio virus which was used to create a life-saving vaccine. Later in his career, he initiated the Human Genome Project and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for furthering our understanding of cancer caused by viruses.

Listeners: Paola De Paoli Marchetti

Paola De Paoli Marchetti is a science journalist who graduated with an honours degree in foreign languages and literature from the University Ca’Foscari, Venice. She has been a science journalist since the 1960s and has been on the staff of the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore since 1970. She was elected president of UGIS (Italian Association of Science Journalists) in 1984. She has been a Member of the Board of EUSJA (European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, Strasbourg), and was its president in 1987-1988 and 1998-2000. In May 2000 she was unanimously elected president emeritus. She was a member of the National Council of Italian Journalists (1992-1998). From 2002 to 2004 she was member of the working group for scientific communication of the National Committee for Biotechnology. She has also been a consultant at the Italian Ministry of Research and Technology and editor-in-chief of the publication MRST, policy of science and technology. She has co-authored many publications in the field of scientific information, including Le biotecnologie in Italia, Le piste della ricerca and Luna vent’anni dopo.

Duration: 4 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008