Clifford Brangwynne’s leap from materials science and physics to pioneering a whole new field of biology reflects a fearlessness that he’s been cultivating for years.
It wasn’t the first time he’d boldly ventured into the unknown. After Brangwynne’s sophomore year in college, he took a year off to satisfy an itch to explore Latin America. He worked in a lab at Harvard Medical School to build a travel fund, then bought a one-way ticket to Honduras. Worried about his safety and sanity, his parents “were convinced they would never see me again,” Brangwynne recalls.
Many months and “weird experiences” later, Brangwynne hitchhiked his way back through Central America. Whether it’s traveling or science, “It’s a good thing to be a little uncomfortable and be where you don’t belong, because then you know you are pushing yourself,” he says.
Brangwynne didn’t really belong in biology, after getting an undergraduate degree at Carnegie Mellon University in materials science and a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University. But he loved the richly textured natural world. And he had a radical idea.