Digital Collections

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

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.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 265 pages
  • 12:50:00
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

Institutional location

Oral history number 0499

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 05, 1954
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • March 28, 2014
  • Berkeley, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1976 University of California, Santa Cruz BA
1981 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 1981 Research Associate

University of Oregon

  • 1982 to 1987 Research Associate

University of Utah

  • 1987 to 1992 Assistant Professor, Associate Professor

University of California, Berkeley

  • 1992 to 1994 Associate Professor


Year(s) Award
1975 University of California President's Undergraduate Fellowship
1976 Graduate Fellowship, Danforth Foundation
1983 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Helen Hay Whitney Foundation
1985 Fellowship, Medical Research Foundation of Oregon
1988 to 1992 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

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PDF — 1.1 MB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

18 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads