Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Tom W. Muir

  • 2002-Aug-15 – 2002-Aug-16

Thomas W. Muir grew up in Stranraer, Scotland—a major port city about two-hundred miles south of Glasgow—the oldest of three brothers. His father was a telephone engineer technician and his mother a housewife, both of whom had an interest and aptitude for music; and though they both had the intelligence for a college education, neither had enough money to attend when younger. Muir was raised in a working-class home, attending public school like all of his friends, with an intense interest in soccer and golf. His paternal grandfather fueled Muir's innate interest in mathematics; and although teachers were aware of his affinity for mathematics, and, later, chemistry, large, public-school classes offered little opportunity for his teachers to foster his interests. Muir excelled at his college entrance exams and received an unconditional acceptance to all the schools to which he applied (he chose to remain in high school one additional year instead of starting college early). He decided to study chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, developing friendships with classmates Steven Thom and James H. Naismith. Muir stayed at the University of Edinburgh to pursue PhD research with Robert Ramage on the physical properties of synthesized peptides and then undertook a postdoctoral position with Stephen B. H. Kent at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. After being influenced by Mark J. Ginsberg's work on cellular interactions, Muir switched his research focus from FTV protease to chemical ligation and the integrin system, collaborating with Michael J. Williams, and eventually becoming a senior research associate. He then accepted a faculty position at Rockefeller University where his research focused on chemical biology and the use of chimeras of synthetic peptides and recombinant proteins for in vitro biochemical pathway studies. Throughout his oral history interview, Muir discusses his teaching and administrative duties, the ways in which he manages his science, publishing, patents, funding, and collaborations. He also reflects on his creative process for pursing scientific questions and the role that the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences played in his early career development.

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