Oral history interview with Maurice J. Kernan

Oral history interview with Maurice J. Kernan

  • 2002-Nov-08
  • 2002-Nov-11
  • 2002-Nov-18
Photograph of Maurice J. Kernan

Maurice J. Kernan was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, the eldest of four siblings. His father worked for an insurance company; his mother was a homemaker. A love of the outdoors and interest in nature was nurtured at a nearby area of salt marsh and sand dunes, North Bull Island in Dublin Bay, where he explored and watched birds; his science projects in school were nature-based and carried out there. An avid reader, his formal education began in the local public school, but from the age of eight he attended a Jesuit day school, Belvedere College.

He matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin to study biology and developed an interest in genetics, studying in a department with ties to genetic research in the United States. During the summer after his third year of college, he traveled to the US and trained with a Trinity alumnus, Mittur Jagadish, in the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. While at Cornell, he also heard a lecture from Allan C. Spradling, who, with Gerald M. Rubin, had just figured out how to make transgenic Drosophila using transposable P elements. After earning his degree, he moved to the United States for graduate research in genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, joining Barry Ganetzky's Drosophila laboratory; his doctoral research on a mutation affecting nerve cell activity led to a pair of Cell papers in the early 1990s. Kernan undertook postdoctoral work in Drosophila with Charles S. Zuker at the University of California, San Diego, where he began a genetic analysis of the sense of touch; from there he accepted a faculty position at SUNY Stony Brook where this work continued.

At the end of the interview, Kernan discusses setting up his laboratory and research program and learning to be a laboratory manager. He also discusses funding, teaching, balancing family life with his career, competition and collaboration, the nation's scientific agenda, and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 117 pages
  • 6 h 11 m 27 s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Physical location

Oral history number 0595

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 07, 1962
  • Dublin, Ireland


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland) BA Genetics
1990 University of Wisconsin--Madison PhD Genetics

Professional Experience

University of Wisconsin--Madison

  • 1985 to 1990 Research Fellow or Graduate Research Assistant

University of California, San Diego

  • 1990 to 1993 Research Associate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • 1993 to 1994 Visiting Research Biologist, Department of Biology

State University of New York at Stony Brook

  • 1995 to 2001 Assistant Professor
  • 2001 Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Center for Developmental Genetics


Year(s) Award
1984 Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Fellowship
1985 UW-Madison: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Fellowship
1989 University of Wisconsin-Madison: Lubrizol Industrial Fellowship
1991 Genetics Society of America: Sandler Memorial Award for thesisresearch in Drosophila
1997 to 2001 Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

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PDF — 1.9 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

10 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads