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First passions and experiments

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Education
Renato Dulbecco Scientist
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Poi il liceo. Il liceo classico e lì non c'erano scelte. Di nuovo ho dovuto seguire il curriculum com'era prima. Una cosa che è venuta fuori durante quel periodo è che mi piaceva molto la matematica. Naturalmente, siccome mio padre era ingegnere, costruiva e disegnava a casa, faceva i calcoli a casa, io avevo infatti imparato a fare il calcolo delle strutture, perché è una cosa abbastanza- non è troppo complicata, per cui forse per questa ragione anche la matematica mi sembrava una cosa interessante e importante. E per questo ho sempre Questo durante il liceo Durante il liceo- ho sempre fatto molto bene. Il liceo- l'immagine che mi ricordo di più del liceo era il professore di filosofia, che era un prete e questo si sedeva lì sulla cattedra. Davanti alla cattedra c'erano dei banchi e il primo banco davanti alla cattedra, c'erano due ragazze sedute e questo banco non aveva nessuna protezione in fronte, per cui quando queste ragazze si muovevano un po', quel prete lì si metteva le mani sugli occhi. Ma non era le mani sugli occhi, se le metteva così in modo da poter vedere attraverso le dita. Ma il prete era giovane? Era abbastanza giovane Abbastanza E le ragazze piacevano anche agli allievi? Oh, certo, molto, molto. Ce n'erano pochissime perché- Eh sì A quell'epoca le ragazze a scuola- ce n'erano due sopra una ventina. Non era una classe molto numerosa E dicendo che ti piaceva tanto la matematica, seguivi più volentieri la matematica oppure la filosofia o le scienze naturali? No, la filosofia non mi è mai piaciuta, dico la verità No? No. Matematica, fisica, anche scienze naturali, queste sono le cose- Sì Quindi, perciò alla fine del liceo, c'era la decisione poi di dove andare. All'univeristà, naturalmente. Ma che università fare, dove andare, ecc. E lì mi ricordo che c'è stato un lungo periodo di discussioni coi miei genitori, perché io pensavo- io vorrei andare a studiare fisica dicevo; mio padre mi appoggiava perché lui era ingegnere e quindi perciò correlato. Mia madre invece diceva no, che dovevo studiare medicina, perché nella famiglia c'era un chirurgo molto bravo, che era lo zio di mia madre, che era chirurgo a Napoli e aveva- ed era riconosciuto molto bravo. Perciò- Ti ricordi il nome dello zio chirurgo? No. E questo ha prevalso e così io sono andato a studiare medicina. E poi la questione era dove andare? A Torino o a Genova? Perché Genova era la città vicina e tutti i miei compagni andavano a Genova, ma invece mio padre ha voluto che andassi a Torino, perché lui aveva studiato a Torino, aveva preso l'ingegneria al Politecnico e si era trovato molto bene e pensava che Torino fosse una città più interessante di Genova. E così sono andato a finire a Torino. Naturalmente quando- siccome avevo 16 anni, mia madre era preoccupatissima- diceva, questo ragazzo va a vivere in una città da solo. Allora lei ha combinato- noi conoscevamo due persone lì a Torino, un dottore con la signora che aveva un edificio, persone per bene ecc. e mia madre- erano molto amici di loro. E mia madre è riuscita a convincere questa signora che io con lei andassimo ad abitare lì, nella sua casa, durante il periodo delle scuole. E cosi'- questo è stato il primo mese, i primi due mesi. Però, pian pianino, si è dimostrato che non era possibile, perché io avevo molti altri interessi, naturalmente uno sudente ecc. e così alla fine si è pacificata, se ne è ritornata a Imperia e io- mi hanno sistemato in un- non so come li chiamano, una specie di casa per studenti agostiniana? Ah, cosa c'erano gli Agostiniani? Sì, gli Agostiniani a Torino. E lì sono stato insomma per tutto il periodo delle scuole, eccetto gli ultimi due anni, vedremo poi perché. Questo era un posto interessante, perché c'erano molti amici, conoscenti, persone che per esempio venivano da altre parti del Piemonte, per cui venivo a conoscenza- qualche volta andavo anche- è stato molto, molto utile per me essere lì invece che stare a casa della signora, capisci?.
Then there was secondary school. I went to a secondary school specialising in classical studies and at that time there were no choices. Again I had to study the curriculum as before. One thing that emerged during this period was that I loved mathematics. Naturally, as my father was an engineer, he constructed and designed at home, did calculations at home and I, in fact, had learned to calculate structures, because it was one thing- it's not too complicated, which is perhaps why mathematics also seemed to be interesting and important. And because of this I always- This was during secondary school. During secondary school- I always did very well. Secondary school- the image I remember most about secondary school was the philosophy teacher, who was a priest and would sit there on the desk. In front of the desk there were benches and on the first bench in front of the desk there were two girls sitting and this bench did not have anything in front of it, so that when these girls moved a little, this priest would put his hands over his eyes. But it wasn't the fact that he put his hands on his eyes, it was the fact that he placed them in such a way as to be able to see through his fingers. Was the priest young then? Fairly young Fairly And did the pupils like the girls? Oh, of course, very very much. There were only a few because- Yes At that time, there were only two girls to every twenty or so pupils at school. It wasn't a very large class- And you were saying that you liked mathematics a lot, did you like mathematics more or philosophy or natural science? No, to tell the truth I never liked philosophy No? No. Mathematics, physics and natural science, these were the things- Yes So, therefore at the end of secondary school, I had to make a decision about where to go. To university of course. But which university to go to, what to study, etc. And I remember that there was a long period of discussions with my parents, because I was thinking- I would like to go and study physics; my father was supporting me in this direction as he was an engineer and so it was connected. My mother, on the other hand, said no, that I should study medicine because she had an uncle who was a surgeon in Naples and was known to be a very good surgeon. So- Do you remember the name of your surgeon uncle? No. And this prevailed and so I went to study medicine. And then there was the question of where to go? To Turin or Genoa? Genoa was the closest city and all my friends went to Genoa, but my father wanted me to go to Turin instead, because he had studied there, he studied engineering at the Polytechnic and found it to be very good and thought that Turin would be a more interesting town than Genoa. And so I ended up in Turin. Naturally, as I was 16 years old, my mother was very worried- she was saying, this boy is going to live all alone in a city. So she arranged- we knew two people in Turin, a doctor with his wife who had a building, respectable people, etc. and my mother was very good friends with them. And my mother managed to convince the lady that I would go to live with them, in their house, during the university term. This was how it was for the first month, the first two months, then slowly it was clear that it wasn't possible, because I had many other interests, naturally as a student, etc, and so in the end she reconciled herself to this and returned to Imperia and I- I set myself up in a- I don't know what you call them, a type of house for Augustinian students? Oh, what were they Augustinians? Yes, the Augustinians in Turin. And I stayed there throughout the university period, except for the last two years, we will see why in a minute. This was an interesting place because there were many friends, acquaintances, people who, for example, came from other parts of Piedmont, whom I got to know- sometimes I went- it was very, very useful for me to be there instead of at the lady's house- you see.

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.

Tags: Piedmont

Duration: 5 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008