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A California teenager socks away money
earned mowing lawns to buy a microscope from a local pawnshop.
Students from a poverty-ridden Washington, D.C., neighborhood
sacrifice their weekends and travel across town to an elite university
to study math and science. A physicist tackles biology and, at an age
when others might be slowing down, launches himself into a new
realm of scientific experiences.
These stories involve some individuals who have achieved great
acclaim and others whose life stories are still being written. Yet they
share a common thread: the power of passionate interest and the
drive to understand the world, the animate and the inanimate. And
whether it's through careful planning or happy accident—we're all
for serendipity here at HHMI—there are many paths by which scientists find their calling and retain a sense of curiosity about the world,
as sampled in this HHMI Bulletin.
We begin with Mario Capecchi, an HHMI investigator at the
University of Utah since 1988, who shared the 2007 Nobel Prize in
Physiology or Medicine with Martin Evans of Cardiff University and
Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Together, these scientists made groundbreaking discoveries that led to
the development of genetic tools widely used to determine the function of mammalian genes.
For Capecchi—whose early years were marked by great privation—scientific research is all about fun. In an interview for the Nobel Foundation, he likens his experiments to hunting among puzzle
pieces for ones that fit together. Capecchi credits his uncle, physicist
Edward Ramburg, for creating an environment that prompted his
interest in research.
Science found Randy Schekman at an early age—or perhaps
it was the other way around. For 16 years an HHMI investigator at
the University of California, Berkeley, Schekman became a dedicated experimentalist in the 8th grade—no doubt to the dismay of
his mother, who tolerated containers of pond scum in his makeshift
Photo: Bruce Weller