Hao Wu's oral history begins with a discussion of her childhood in China, during which her family was separated and forced to relocate to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Despite the difficulties associated with such turmoil, including the death of her father, Wu excelled in school. She consistently ranked highest in her class, and on the National College Entrance Exam she ranked fifth of all test-takers in the city of Beijing. Wu enrolled in Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, a highly selective, combined eight year bachelor's and medical degree program founded by the Rockefeller Foundation. While there she took courses taught in English and a semester of Immunology research which piqued her interest in laboratory work, leading her away from the clinical world of medicine. At an international biochemistry meeting, Wu discovered the structural biology research of Michael Rossmann, research that would ultimately bring her to the United States. After some difficulty obtaining her visa, Wu began the PhD program at Purdue University joining Rossmann's laboratory. Her research on canine parvovirus crystals brought her to the University of Kentucky and also to Norwich, England briefly. Additionally Wu worked on a Fortran computational modeling program during her graduate studies. While at Purdue, Wu met a colleague she later married, though she quickly discovered that he did not share her views about science or appreciate the difficulty of balancing family life and research. Wu chose her postdoctoral position at Columbia University with Wayne A. Hendrickson because her partner's job was in Connecticut. Wu's research on CD4 and HCG led to multiple publications including a 1997 Nature paper. Although Wu considered becoming a Research Assistant instead of a PI, after she solved the structure of CD4 she decided to test the job market and ultimately joined the faculty at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Staying in New York City did not disrupt her children's education and allowed Wu to take advantage of the large structural biology community within the city. Shortly after beginning at Cornell, Wu received the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Award. This fellowship helped her solve structures and perform the initial work necessary in order to receive a National Institutes of Health grant. During the oral history, Wu discussed her research group's work on TRAF and AIF and the difficulties associated with the funding of crystallographic research. She also touched on the current struggle between basic and translational science; competition from other laboratories; the complexities of balancing family and work; and the difficulties women in science face. At many points throughout the interview Wu returned the discussion to China and its ascendancy with respect to science, her own educational experiences there, and the teaching she now does in China.
Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
About the Interviewer
Karen A. Frenkel is a writer, documentary producer, and author specializing in science and technology and their impacts on society. She wrote Robots: Machines in Man’s Image (Harmony 1985) with Isaac Asimov. Her articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, CyberTimes, Business Week, Communications Magazine, Discover, Forbes, New Media, Personal Computing, Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, The Village Voice, and Technology Review. Ms. Frenkel’s award-winning documentary films, Net Learning and Minerva’s Machine: Women and Computing aired on Public Television. She has been an interviewer for Columbia University’s Oral History Research Center’s 9/11 Narrative and Memory project, The National Press Foundation’s Oral History of Women in Journalism, and the International Psychoanalytic Institute for Training and Research’s Oral History. Professional memberships include: The Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers, Writer’s Guild of America East, and New York Women in Film and Television: Past Member of the Board and Director of Programming. Her website is www.Karenafrenkel.com.
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.
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