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Oral history interview with Bruce A. Hamilton

  • 2005-Oct-05 – 2005-Oct-07
Photograph of Bruce A. Hamilton

Bruce A. Hamilton was born in Palo Alto, California, where his father was a graduate student in engineering. His mother was at that time a housewife. Having finished his master's degree, the older Hamilton began work in the aerospace industry in Lompoc, California; he then moved to Lockheed Martin and from there to Allied Chemical, where he helped develop airbags. The family moved to Dallas for a year and then to Michigan for two years. When Bruce was about eight they settled in Santa Clarita, where Bruce finished growing up. Bruce's father often brought things home from work, things to set on fire or to explode or otherwise to illustrate science and his own work, so Bruce had a very early exposure to science. His childhood years were otherwise typical of a middle-class family of the time. In elementary school his class had a two-year project that involved building a city; the pupils had to build it physically from Styrofoam, to organize a government for it, etc. Hamilton still thinks it was a wonderful way to instill understanding, knowledge, and enthusiasm for learning in children. In high school he had two excellent biology teachers and an excellent chemistry and calculus teacher; from them he increased his propensity to love science. He also found a non-denominational church attractive, and for a while he considered becoming a minister. In his spare time he attended Boys State, built a darkroom for his photography, and took up drums. Hamilton matriculated at University of California at San Diego, where as a sophomore he discovered that he loved genetics. He did so well in his first genetics class that he was asked to be a teaching assistant the next year. He spent his senior year in Richard Firtel's lab. With the guidance of Richard Firtel and the two teachers of that first genetics class, he ended up at California Institute of Technology for graduate school. There he began working with flies in Elliot Meyerowitz's lab, eventually leaving for Kai Zinn's lab, where he would concentrate more on neural development. He finished his PhD, married, and moved to Boston, where Hamilton took up his postdoc at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at Massachusetts of Technology, where he worked in Eric Lander's lab for five years. From there he moved back to San Diego, where he accepted a position at the University of California at San Diego. There he continues his research in neurogenetics; writes grant proposals and journal articles; teaches; and attempts to balance his work life with his family life.

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