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Oral history interview with Theodore S. Jardetzky

  • 2002-Jun-03 – 2002-Jun-05
Photograph of Theodore S. Jardetzky

Theodore S. Jardetzky was raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and Palo Alto, California, the middle of three brothers. Both of his parents were scientists: his father emigrated from Austria to attend Macalester College, remaining in the United States to receive an MD and PhD from the University of Minnesota, and then working at the California Institute of Technology (with Linus Pauling), Harvard Medical School, Merck and Company, and, finally, Stanford University (as a professor of pharmacology); his mother emigrated from Greece to attend Macalester and then pursued her doctorate at the University of Minnesota. As a child, Jardetzky loved to read and was fascinated by music, wanting to play the trumpet but then settling for the clarinet and, later, the saxophone. He spent much time playing with his siblings and friends made in the community of Stanford faculty. In addition to music, he also had a longtime interest in mathematics and science, and had influential teachers in chemistry and biology in high school.

Unsure of what he wanted to pursue for a career, Jardetzky matriculated at Stanford University in order to explore both science and the humanities. While there, he worked in his father’s (Oleg Jardetzky) lab alongside his stepmother, Norma Gene Jardetzky, which proved quite formative: he undertook a senior research project on the structure of the acetylcholine receptor and had the opportunity to meet Kasper Kirschner, with whom Jardetzky decided to work in the Biozentrum at the University of Basel, Switzerland, for his graduate studies. In Kirschner’s lab, Jardetzky looked at the kinetics and equilibrium binding of enzyme reactions and had the fortune to meet Donald C. Wiley, who became his postdoctoral advisor. In Wiley’s lab at Harvard University Jardetzky researched the structure and mechanism of peptide binding for MHC Class II histocompatibility proteins, after which he accepted a position at Northwestern University looking at the interactions of the immune response, the structure of antibody receptors, and viral pathogenesis.

The interview concludes with reflections on Jardetzky’s professional and personal goals; his future research on the structure of membrane proteins, on the properties of protein structure, and on the organization of cellular structures; the importance of the history of science in research; and collaborations and competition in research. At the end of the interview, he talks about setting the national science agenda; the role of the scientist in educating the public; gender issues in science; and the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on his work.

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