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Joe Gillman's philosophy of science


Doing an additional BSc year
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Now, during the course of this year, it had become realised that if I just went on and did my six years medicine, I would finish medicine under the age of 21 and that I couldn't become registered at that time – you had to be over 21 to become a registered doctor. And so therefore I would have to spend a year doing something else. And one of the things that was available, which fitted in very nicely with everything, was a... a BSc degree. And of course the people who paid my bursary realised that I would have to do this in order… so they gave me an extra year. And I therefore deviated at the end of the second year to do a BSc in physiology and anatomy. And a small group of people did this each year… into this class, and one suddenly realised that now one was entering in… into science, because there were in that – especially in the histology department – a number of people who had not only done a BSc degree, but had done an Honours degree and a Masters degree and that they began to run the BSc class, and in this department people were actually doing research. And one of my teachers there was a remarkable man called Harold Daitz, who died quite young in… later on. Another man was a man called Mike Wright, who was about a year ahead of me, and who had gone on to do neuroanatomy. And so in that year, one really began to do research. That is, we all were put in a room and we were... all had a… I think there were about 11 of us. And two of my colleagues I still keep in touch with from that time; I saw one recently who had just retired as professor of anaesthesiology in University of… at Washington University in Seattle – University of Washington in Seattle. And this was absolutely an amazing experience because on the anatomy side, we had lectures in palaeontology from Robert Broom, and I still have a copy of his… of a book he gave me. We did a whole series of sessions with people in the department and that we were taught about the physics and chemistry of dyes as a basis of staining of tissue. My teacher here was someone who remained a friend for life, who was Joel Mandelstam. He had… he was a chemist who had joined Joe Gillman's department to do research and tried to do biochemistry there. We did projects in embryology, in... involving three-dimensional reconstruction of embryos from serial sections, traced out with a Camera Lucida onto sheets of beeswax and the thing stacked, and this technology I learnt. I also did a project in neuroanatomy and did a reconstruction of part of a galago brain, and it was absolutely the… a tremendous experience. On the physiology part we started to do some more biochemistry. Now one thing we could do was take up some project of our own... and from my reading in various books, I had become tremendously impressed by trying to work on cell physiology… on enzymology. And one of the things that was done in those days, was to measure oxygen uptake – that was the only way you could study oxidation and reduction pathways. You had manometers and you would add these enzymes and the things, and you would shake them, and you would watch to see the changes in pressure. And – there were two kinds – there was a thing called a Warburg manometer, and everybody worked with these, and of course there wasn't such a thing available, so I decided I'd build one, and I sat down and I first had to learn how to blow glass and grind tabs. So I actually did build a Warburg manometer and measure the oxygen uptake of tissues and this led me to say, 'Now I know what I want to do; I want to become a cell physiologist'. And I had become interested then in trying to find out now how cells could work and how… and how this… how one could do… how one could penetrate this.

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: University of Washington at Seattle, Harold Daitz, Robert Broom, Joel Mandelstam, Joseph Gillman

Duration: 6 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008