Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Richard W. Carthew

  • 2001-Jul-02 – 2001-Jul-03
  • 2001-Jul-05

Richard W. Carthew was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, the second youngest, and only son, of four siblings. His father received a degree in civil engineering from Queen's University and worked for the province-run hydro-electric utility, Ontario Hydro; his mother was a homemaker. From an early age he was interested in exploring the great outdoors—studying insects, climbing trees, and the like—he played piano, and tobogganed. He excelled in school until junior high and high school when he found the subjects uninteresting, though he regained his interest during his senior year, especially due to classes in science (chemistry and biology) and mathematics. Carthew entered Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada with an interest in ecology; he had the opportunity to work for Seward R. Brown, an ecological paleontologist. Though he was hoping to be in the field for his senior thesis work, most of the research on which Brown wanted Carthew to work was laboratory based, serving to further his interest in science and resulting in a publication on the thermodynamics of photosynthetic adaptation to photon fluence rate in the cyanophyte. After completing his undergraduate degree he went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music while also pursuing a master's in botany at the University of Toronto. Then he became a research technician in Jack F. Greenblatt's laboratory at the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research at the university and contributed to work isolating three proteins that bind to RNA polymerase II; Greenblatt encouraged him to apply to graduate school. He chose to attend the Massachusetts of Technology and selected to study in Phillip A. Sharp's laboratory, working on transcription regulation (also researching with and training Stephen Buratowski, Pew Class of 1995). While in Sharp's lab, though, Carthew began to develop an interest in neurobiology, deciding, then, to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship with Gerald M. Rubin at the University of California, Berkeley. From there he accepted a faculty position at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied the ras oncogene; his work on ras led to consulting work for the Chiron Corporation. The interview ends with Carthew's thoughts on the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences; race and gender issues in science; combining the teaching of the history of science with methodological and technical approaches; using kits in the lab; his love of sailing; and the ways in which fatherhood has changed his views about his career. The interview concludes with a discussion of his current research on RNAi and frizzled; the application of his work to Alzheimer's disease; patents; competition and collaboration; ethics, laboratory practice, and laboratory research; and his pending move to Northwestern University.

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