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Janelia Farm is designed to equip some 230 resident and 100 visiting scientists with advanced tools, excellent facilities, and freedom of inquiry. Its research agenda centers on two themes: discovering the basic rules and mechanisms of the brain's information-processing system, and developing biological and computational technologies for creating and interpreting biological images.
In his own laboratory at Janelia, Rubin intends to bring his Drosophila genetics experience and techniques to bear on issues of gene expression regulation in the brain. But he'll concentrate mainly on building Janelia's scientific programs and continuing with mentoring activities, which mean a great deal to him. More than 50 of his former students and postdocs now run their own labs; three are HHMI investigators.
Rubin believes his style is well suited to the enormous yet exciting task ahead. “I have always placed science first and politics and personalities second. I have a knack for dealing with highly creative, quirky, high-maintenance people and getting them to work together. And I am flexible.”
Such standards and flexibility have served his family as well. When Janelia becomes operational, the Rubins will move to the complex from their home in Bethesda, Maryland, near his present office at HHMI headquarters. Throughout his career, Rubin has insisted on living within 2 miles of his workplace to be close to his family. “He never missed dinner at home,” says Lynn, “and he could always slip out for an hour or two for all those little school plays and performances.”
Running an enterprise of Janelia's scale and ambition will of course be no easy task. But colleagues have no doubt that if anyone can make Janelia a success, it is Gerry Rubin. “I think Gerry likes big science,” says Tjian, “and because he's so organized it doesn't faze him to be thinking about big organizations. He has a great track record and his resources at Janelia are unmatchable.”
Even competitors, such as Venter, are rooting for him. If they have any cautions, it's about the ability of a leader, no matter how capable and inspired, to make a go of an enterprise—especially in today's academically oriented, competitive biomedical-research climate—that is founded on the high ideals of science as a collaborative effort aimed at the common good.
“People tell me I'm evangelical,” acknowledges Rubin. “I take that as a compliment.”