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Oral history interview with Thomas C. Alber

  • 1993-Mar-15
  • 1993-Apr-09
  • 1993-Jul-16
  • 1993-Jul-23
  • 1993-Jul-28 – 1993-Jul-29
  • 1993-Dec-15

Thomas C. Alber grew up as an American in post World War II Japan and had to deal with issues related to his bilingualism and biculturalism. After moving to Los Angeles with his mother in 1964, Alber was encouraged in all areas of study, including the sciences, through his involvement with the Independent Program School at University High School in Los Angeles. This unique high school experience helped Alber choose the University of California, Santa Cruz for his undergraduate studies because of its non-traditional structure. At Santa Cruz, Alber worked in Anthony L. Fink’s enzyme mechanism laboratory and pursued an opportunity to perform research with Gregory A. Petsko at Wayne State University. his research experience solidified his future interests in chemistry and biochemistry over other fields, such as the history of science. With a Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellowship, Alber undertook graduate research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), first under Alexander Rich and later under Petsko (when Petsko joined the MIT faculty). traveled as a graduate student to do research at various laboratories including those at the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Oxford. After earning his PhD, Alber started his postdoctoral research with Brian W. Matthews at the University of Oregon. Since Matthews was involved with the interdisciplinary Institute of Molecular Biology, Alber continued his pattern of research and study in a non-traditional setting. While finishing his postdoctoral research, Alber authored “Mutational effects on Protein Stability,” in the Annual Review of Biochemistry in 1989. In this article, he proposed departing from the traditional model system of structural protein research and instead stressed the importance of all possible hydrogen-binding sites, the external amino acids on the rigid portion of the active site, the relative unimportance of the so-called ‘floppy part,’ and the necessity for flexibility in a protein. Alber’s movement from the University of Oregon to the University of Utah and then on to the University of California, Berkeley allowed him to reflect on the American model of university science, the ways in which that model differs at a range of institutions, and the ways in which it varies from science in other nations. Alber’s oral history ends with a discussion of the ways in which Alber’s laboratory life changed over a ten-month period in 1993 right after he joined the faculty at Berkeley.

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