Joshua Lederberg begins the three-part interview with a description of his parents, family background, and early years in New York. Lederberg knew from the second grade that he wanted to be a scientist, and he experimented at home with his own chemistry lab. Lederberg cites Albert Einstein as being a positive role model in his formative years. After completing grade school in 1936, he attended the Palestine Conference with his father in Washington, DC. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School at age fifteen. Due to age restrictions, Lederberg had to wait until he was sixteen before entering Columbia University. He spent the semester between high school and college at the American Institute of Science Laboratory. Then, he received his B.A. in biology from Columbia in 1944. While in college, Lederberg did original research with colchicine and worked with Francis Ryan on Neurospora and E. coli. At age seventeen, he enlisted with the U.S. Navy and was placed in the V-12 program, serving as a naval hospital corpsman. While working towards his Ph.D., Lederberg continued his research on bacteria and E. coli.
After receiving his Ph.D. in microbiology from Yale University in 1947, he joined the University of Wisconsin as assistant professor of genetics, and he expanded the University's bacteriology research. There, Lederberg first worked on salmonella strains with his graduate students. While with the University of Wisconsin, Lederberg won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1958. Lederberg concludes the interview with a discussion of the University environment during the McCarthy era, reflections on his career decisions, and thoughts on chemical information science.