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Scientific heroes


Personal interests outside of science
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Well, I'm not… I wouldn't consider myself to be a great follower of the arts, in the sense that I… I did paint when I was younger. My wife is the owner of several original Sydney Brenner paintings, but I… and I can appreciate them and so on. I do listen to music; as I grow older I like the ensembles to have less and less members, that is that I… I had reached the stage a few years ago where I found that anything above a quintet was too noisy. I'm at the trio stage now and I shall soon decline, hopefully I'll stop at one because zero would be just too difficult. I do read and I'm interested in what people write. I'm interested in philosophy, that's an old interest, and I'm interested in reading. And… but as I've grown older, as many people are, I have become tremendously interested in biography, history and in particular autobiography, because I think I've come to the conclusion that the past does live on, does live in individuals and it's very interesting to be able to read about it. And one of my hobbies is to collect the writings of scientists about themselves and about other people about them, because of course you can read them and say, yes, yes. Some of them I think do… I'm very interested in writings that create a social environment, whether they're fictional or… or factual, and so I think, one of the greatest things I have read, at least in scientific quarter biographies is the first volume of Richard Goldschmidt's life. The second volume is boring because it's all about his travels in Japan and so… The first volume is amazing because it recreates what it was like to be a student in Germany in the 1890s and at the peak of German culture and with the kind of biologists there were and how important the museums were in teaching biology, and how really brilliant biologists could never get a chair but became curators of museums and taught schoolboys biology, schoolboys who later became reconcile… Those books seem to me to bring back lost worlds and so therefore I think they have tremendous value. The other book that I think everybody should read is the book Max Born wrote about his own life for his family – which has been published – with all its descriptions of… of pre-war Germany and what it was like to be Jewish and going to a certain place where on a certain day… He was very puzzled as a young man that in fact he had to go on this long hike and he noticed that all the other people who went on this hike were all Jewish, and that was because Cosima Wagner, Richard Wagner's wife, held a day, an open day there and of course she wouldn't invite any Jews to this. But they had arranged so, not to… but that is, I think… that I think is very interesting because these worlds are lost except through this and I suppose as one gets older one wants to try and preserve something.

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



Duration: 4 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010