Oral history interview with Michael J. Berry II

  • 2007-Dec-04 – 2007-Dec-05
Photograph of Michael J. Berry II

Michael J. Berry II begins his oral history discussing his childhood, which was heavily influenced by the chemistry careers of both his parents and involved several moves from California to Wisconsin, New Jersey, and then Texas. During high school Berry developed an interest in both physics and chemistry, while also engaging in some philosophicalq uestions. Shortly after matriculating at the University of California, Berkeley, Berry decided to pursue physics as his major instead of chemistry. The questions at the heart of physics seemed both more intellectually stimulating and intriguing. Although Berry felt he had a calling within the field of physics, he still found time to wrestle with philosophical inquiry. As an undergraduate Berry began to think about neuroscience as the melding of his two interests: physics and philosophy. After earning his bachelors degree, however, Berry pursued a PhD in physics at Harvard University under Robert M. Westervelt. While finishing his thesis work on semiconductor physics and chaotic systems, Berry decided to pursue post-doctoral research that led him farther from physics and closer to biology. Prior to beginning his post-doctoral work, Berry enrolled in a Marine Biological Laboratory course at Woods Hole focused on electrophysiology and found a community of physicists working in neuroscience and the biological fields. As such, the time spent with Markus Meister at Harvard University for post-doctoral research allowed Berry to transition successfully into the field of neuroscience (which he found better suited to his intellectual needs). By focusing his research on visual processing in the retina, Berry discovered the joys and challenges of working in a field that, unlike physics, did not yet have what he considered a well-defined framework. Before securing his faculty position at Princeton University in the Molecular Biology Department, Berry encountered some difficulty in choosing between physics-based and biology-based departments. Shortly after starting at Princeton, Berry was awarded the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award. Throughout his oral history, Berry addressed such important issues as funding, mentoring his students, and attempting to balance his personal life with his career. The oral history concludes with a discussion of the connections between neuroscience and philosophy and the globalization of science.

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Available upon request are 1 PDF transcript and 3 audio recording files.

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