Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Anthony M.C. Brown

  • 1990-Mar-08

Anthony Brown was one of two sons of a father in the Royal Navy and a mother of Armenian descent who spoke several languages. The family lived in a number of places primarily on the south coast of England. Brown attended Cranleigh School, where his interest in science evolved past the “inevitable chemistry set.” The British system of education required that he study three related subjects, so he reluctantly gave up history. At the University of Cambridge he found chemistry dull but liked genetics and the history and philosophy of science. He decided to spend his third year in genetics. Two laboratory experiences and a brief foray into the “real world” convinced Brown he wanted to do science, so he entered a PhD program at the University of Edinburgh.

Degree in hand, Brown spent two postdoctoral years in Pierre Chambon’s lab at the Institute for Genetics and Cellular and Molecular Biology in Strasbourg, France, and three years in Harold Varmus’ lab at University of California, San Francisco. At this point he was ready for his own lab and was being recruited by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in London, England. He sought competing offers and found Cornell University’s superior. Brown says science in the United States has better funding, access to more graduate students, and a smaller teaching load. His work is moving toward developmental biology; he hopes in future to understand differentiation pathways better. He likes a smaller lab, giving him some trainees and workers but not requiring ceding of control. He says the Pew meetings have given him the opportunity to learn about areas he would not otherwise have investigated, with the result that he is now working on developmental biology as well as the molecular biology of cancer. Brown finds the conflict between religion and science, as represented by Genesis and DNA, fascinating; his only religious connection is musical.

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