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Going to Johannesburg University to study medicine


Humans' interest in science
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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I think I had what most small boys have – and probably girls as well – which is just an interest in nature. In fact I've noticed in my own children that they always begin with this interest in nature, of seeds, of having animals swim around and looking down things at magnifying glasses. And then I think it is the formal teaching that destroys this. So if you just take as much of the formal teaching as is necessary to pass examinations, you needn't have this exploratory urge and I think that's one of the things that… that I think is… is science... and of course the fact that there is a way of actually asking and answering questions about nature.

[Q] What sort of questions? I still don't understand what it was about the Wells book that really turned you on?

Well, the Wells book covers everything that was known about biology and so there was the whole thing about physiology, about how things worked, and how things worked seemed to me to be very important. I mean you know, I'm not trying… I'm trying not to add hindsight to all of this but just the fascination of knowledge in itself – that people had actually discovered, you know, that there were pigments involved in photosynthesis and this whole ability to, you know, draw the veil apart from nature. So I thought that that was something… that is what drove me. Now…

[Q] Physics less… sorry. Just say, physics less so?

Physics less so. It was this strange… it was biology which I... I thought was, you know, very important and it was just that attraction. I haven't been a good mathematician, I don't think I've been clever enough to be a mathematician. I found that physics, as it was taught to us, had got away from nature – it was all about pendulums and things like that – whereas biology was still there, and so that was the… that was the interest.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Tags: The Science of Life, GP Wells

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008