Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Seth A. Darst

  • 2001-Apr-01 (Session 1)
  • 2001-May-03 (Session 2)

Seth A. Darst was born in Virginia, where his father was in the Army, but grew up in the Seattle, Washington area, where his father built houses and his mother taught piano. When President Carter’s economic policies caused massive inflation and unemployment, Boeing Company let go many workers, and house-building was no longer a profitable business. Darst’s father moved the family to Loveland, Colorado, and started another business. Seth and his brother, just a year younger, were “typical” suburban kids, riding bikes, playing baseball, goofing around, sometimes fighting with each other.

Seth’s mother taught him to play the piano at an early age, and he became very good. He finished all the classes in his high school early and spent his senior year working for his father. He could not decide at first between music school and engineering school, but the difficulties inherent in a musical career persuaded him to go into chemical engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He had never had to study hard before, but he learned fast in college. By the end of college he had decided that although he did not like the engineering part of chemical engineering, he did not want to go to medical school, so at the last minute he made a few telephone calls and almost accidentally ended up at Stanford University.

A required undergraduate class in biochemistry, taught by Larry Gold and Michael Yarus, had introduced him to the exciting topic of structural biology. At Stanford he worked in Roger Kornberg’s lab, continuing his interest in structural biology. Near the end of his master’s degree he found electron microscopy and crystallography, his ongoing interests. He was given a Lucille P. Markey Postdoctoral Fellowship, so he was able to remain in Kornberg’s lab for an extra two years, just doing what he loved, until he was offered an assistant professorship at Rockefeller University.

Darst’s wife, Elizabeth Campbell, was accepted into the graduate program in microbiology at Rockefeller, so the couple and their new daughter moved to New York. Elizabeth finished her PhD and now works in Seth’s lab. Seth has progressed through associate professorship to full, tenured professorship, Head of Laboratory. He continues his work in prokaryotic transcription, occasionally traveling to Brookhaven or Argonne National Laboratory. He and Elizabeth balance their work with their family life as well as they can.

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