(1) Dominick Purpura

To my surprise, I found my first laboratory experiences to be absorbing, quite unlike the rather dry science I had been taught…More important, I found discussions with Grundfest and Purpura fascinating—they were penetrating and sometimes marvelously gossipy about other scientists’ work, their careers, their sex lives….I began to realize that what makes science so distinctive, particularly in an American laboratory, is not just the experiments themselves, but also the social context, the sense of equality between student and teacher, and the open, ongoing, and brutally frank exchange of ideas and criticism.
Had I not been exposed in Harry Grundfest’s laboratory to the excitement of actually doing research, of carrying out experiments to discover something new, I would have ended up with a very different career, and I presume, a very different life. In the first two years of medical school I took the required basic science courses, but until I had actually one research, I saw my scientific education as a a prerequisite for doing what I really cared about—practicing medicine, taking care of patients, understanding their illnesses, and preparing to become a psychoanalyst. I was astonished to discover that working in the laboratory—doing¬ science in collaboration with interesting and creative people—is dramatically different from taking courses and reading about science…

Science is done in an intense and endlessly engrossing social context. The life of a biological scientist in the United States is a life of discussion and debate—it is the Talmudic tradition writ large…The egalitarian social structure of American science encourages this camaraderie. Life at an American university bridges gaps in both age and status in ways that I have always found inspiring…In the United States, young people speak up and are listened to if they have interesting things to say.

(2) Alden Spencer

My research took an extremely fortunate turn with Alden’s arrival….Born in Portland, Alden completely changed my narrow view of life outside the East Coast. He was strongly independent, with an original turn of mind, a great interest in music and art, and an enthusiasm for life that made him exciting to be with…Alden had a considerable musical talent, having played the clarinet in the Portland Symphony Orchestra. His wife, Diane, was a fine pianist…We talked science incessantly and reinforced each other’s audacity.

Alden’s death was shattering to all of us personally and devastating to our close-knit group. We had talked almost daily for about twenty years, so for a long while afterward the whole rhythm of my working life was disrupted…Alden’s death was followed by my father’s death the same year and my brother’s death 4 years later. In each case was extensively involved in their care, and their deaths left me not only psyhoclogically despondent and depleted but also physically exhausted. I have always been grateful for the serenity I have been able to obtain by focusing hard on my work…This difficult period was made even more painful for me by my son Paul’s departure for college…I was beginning to feel like Job.

(3) Tom Carew
In 1971, we were joined by Tom Carew, a gifted, energetic, and gregarious physiological psychologist who…simply loved being in the group at NYU…Like a dry sponge, Carew soaked up the culture of the group—not only the science, but also the shared interest in art, music, and scientific gossip.

(4) Robert Hawkins
In 1980 we were joined by Robert Hawkins, an instightful young psychologist…He was already a devotee of classical music and opera. A fine athlete, Hawkins had played on the varsity soccer team and Stanford, and he proceeded to focus his athletic passion on sailing.

(5) Richard Axel
Richard Axel would prove to be the collaborator who guided me into the third stage of my biological career, one centered on the dialogue between a neuron’s genes and its synapses in the formation of long-term memory…He had developed a general method of transferring any gene into any cell…called co-transfection, widely used both by scientists in their research and by the pharmaceutical industry in generating drugs. At the end of a meeting, he walked up to me and said, “I’m getting tired of all this gene cloning. I want to do something on the nervous system. We should talk and maybe do something on the molecular biology of walking.” Richard was also an opera addict, and soon after we became friends, we went to the opera together on a number of occasions, always without tickets.

(6) Kelsey Martin
After graduating from Harvard College, Kelsey Martin and her husband joined the Peace Corps in Africa…While she was in our laboratory, they had a daughter, Maya. Kelsey proved a special presence in the laboratory, not only doing first-class science with extraordinary skill, but also lifting all of our spirits by turning our little conference-lunchroom into a joyful kindergarten for gifted children from 4:00-6:00 pm.

(7) Felix Strumwasser

Aside from Nazi sympathizers, Kandel criticizes only one other scientist in his autobiography, Felix Strumwasser (1934-2007).

Strumwasser experimenting with Kandel’s snail

Not everything was wine and roses, however. Another young scientist, Felix Strumwasser, went to work at a neighboring laboratory…I learned a great deal from him. In fact, in my conversations with Felix, I sharpened my thinking about how to tackle neurobiological studies of learning. Felix also got me to think about the hypothalamus…I was therefore taken aback—and hurt—when the day after I gave the seminar on our work, Felix stopped talking to me. I could not understand what had happened. Only with time did I realize that science is filled not simply with a passion for ideas but also with the ambition and strivings of people at different stages of their careers. Many years later, Felix renewed our friendship.