THE SECRET BEHIND THE SECRET OF LIFE: FACTS AND FICTIONS

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DATE: Saturday, June 4, 2011
TIME: 8:00 PM-10:00 PM
VENUE: 3LD Art & Technology Center
MODERATOR: Lynn Sherr
PARTICIPANTS: Leslie Bernstein, Pamela Bjorkman, Donald Caspar, Esther Conwell, Raymond Gosling, Joan Siefert Brugge, Anna Ziegler

In the 1950s, three labs raced to unravel the structure of DNA. Five decades after the Nobel Prize was awarded for the breakthrough, the contribution of one scientist—Rosalind Franklin—remains controversial. A riveting performance of The Ensemble Studio Theatre Production of Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, directed by Linsay Firman, a historical drama that explored Rosalind Franklin’s electrifying story.

Presented in collaboration with 3-Legged Dog Media + Theater Group, created with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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Moderator

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Broadcast Journalist, Author

Award-winning broadcaster and author Lynn Sherr spent more than thirty years with ABC News, covering a wide range of stories – from women’s issues and social change to investigative reports, politics and the space program – at 20/20 and World News. She continues to broadcast on a variety of platforms, to write for magazines and online, and to lecture across the country. Her newest book, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, was published in 2014. Among its other honors, the book was a New York Times bestseller, and was a Best Book of the Year for the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Widely acknowledged as an expert on the life of Susan B. Anthony and the suffrage movement, Sherr is also the author of a number of bestselling books, including SWIM: Why We Love the Water; Outside the Box: My Unscripted Life of Love, Loss and Television News; Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words; and Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes, which was also the subject of a one-hour documentary for the PBS Nature program.

Participants

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Biostatistician, Cancer Epidemiologist

Leslie Bernstein delayed her scientific career to raise a family and received her Ph.D. in biostatistics at age 42. She then pursued a career as a cancer epidemiologist and was the first to demonstrate that exercise lowers women’s breast cancer risk. Her research seeks to identify modifiable factors like exercise, body size, and hormone therapy use, which alter cancer risk. She has also documented how chemotherapy and hormonal therapy for breast cancer affect the development of subsequent cancers, stroke, and heart disease and how certain lifestyle habits extend survival after treatment is completed. With more than 450 publications in her 29-year career, Bernstein has won numerous national and international awards for her breast cancer research, particularly for showing how exercise lowers breast cancer risk, and for her advocacy for women in science and her creative mentoring. After spending 25 years at the University of Southern California where she held an endowed chair and served as medical school dean for faculty affairs and university vice provost for medical affairs, Bernstein has built the Division of Cancer Etiology at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and is again dean for faculty affairs.

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Biophysicist, Structural Biologist

Pamela Bjorkman is the Max Delbrück Professor of Biology and an HHMI investigator at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. She received a BA degree in Chemistry from the University of Oregon and a PhD degree in biochemistry from Harvard University. As a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow in Don Wiley’s laboratory, she solved the crystal structure of a human histocompatibility complex molecule. She continued her postdoctoral training at Stanford with Mark Davis, where she worked on T cell receptors. Bjorkman is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her research, in addition to being named the L’OREAL-UNESCO Women in Science North American Laureate in 2006. Bjorkman received an NIH director’s Pioneer Award in 2010 and was named one of the most powerful moms in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) by Working Mother magazine.

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Structural Biologist

Donald Caspar is a structural biologist, emeritus professor of biological science at the Florida State University Institute of Molecular Biophysics, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caspar coined the name ‘Structural Biology’ for the study of the growth and form of living structures from the molecular to macroscopic level, and went on to play a major role in the development of this science.

Biological molecules conform to the laws of physics and chemistry, but are designed by the forces of evolution and functional necessity. Recognition of these facts has driven his science and inspired his insights into the mysteries of biomolecular design. His Ph.D. thesis, on Tobacco Mosaic Virus structure placed him on a trajectory parallel and intertwined with Rosalind Franklin, whose affect is still felt.

His deep instinct for structural design has formed the basis for his pervasive influence in the field where he remains an inspiration to his students and colleagues and continues to produce insights into the remarkable logic underpinning the function of biomolecular systems.

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Physicist, Chemist, Biologist

Esther Conwell is widely known for her theoretical studies of the properties of materials. Her early research, with V. F. Weisskopf, on the effect of impurities on the motion of electrons, was an important step for the understanding of conduction in semiconductors, the materials of which transistors are made. That, and additional research, particularly on the effect of a high electric field (“hot electrons”), contributed to better design of transistors and thus to the technologies that led to the computer revolution. She also made significant contributions to theory for conducting polymers, now considered to be highly promising for efficient light sources, and to conduction in DNA.

Conwell was honored by Discover magazine in 2002 as one of “the 50 most important women in science”. In addition to being a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she was recently presented a National Medal of Science by President Obama in a White House ceremony.

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Medical Physicist

Raymond Gosling pioneered x-ray diffraction research at King’s College London, and collaborated closely with Maurice Wilkins in analysing samples of DNA. Together they produced the first crystalline diffraction photographs at King’s showing an x-pattern of black dots. Gosling was assigned to Rosalind Franklin at King’s in 1951 and she acted as his academic supervisor. During the following two years, they worked closely together to perfect the technique of x-ray diffraction photography of DNA and obtained some of the sharpest pictures from which measurements might be obtained that they hoped would determine the structure of the two principal forms of DNA they had identified—the so-called A and B forms. It was Gosling who took the now famous photograph 51 showing beyond doubt the helical structure of the B form of sodium DNA.

Gosling briefly remained at King’s following completion of his thesis in 1954 before lecturing in physics at Queen’s College, University of St Andrews and in University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, where he created an animal model (broiler cockerels) for the study of the changes in the elastic structure of the aorta in the early stages of atherogenesis. He was a senior lecturer and later reader at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, London and was appointed professor of Physics Applied to Medicine in the Dept of Radiological Sciences in 1984. On retirement in 1991 he was appointed emeritus professor and has since held visiting professorships at two universities and has been a collaborator in the Oxford Project for Investigation of Memory in the Aged (OPTIMA) at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford University. He retains an active professional involvement in the biophysical aspects of arterial disease.

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Cell Biologist

Joan Brugge joined the faculty of the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School in July 1997 and became the chair of this department in 2004. A graduate of Northwestern University, she received her PhD from the Baylor College of Medicine. During her postdoctoral training at the University of Colorado with Raymond Erikson, she isolated the protein coded for the viral and cellular forms of the SRC gene. Brugge has held full professorships at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also named as an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 1992 Brugge left academia to help found a new company, ARIAD, to focus on research aimed at developing new drugs targeting signaling pathways in disease. Her laboratory is currently investigating normal processes that regulate cell proliferation, survival, and migration during morphogenesis and elucidating how oncogenic insults during tumorigenesis disrupt these processes to the advantage of the tumor cells.

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Playwright

Anna Ziegler’s plays include Photograph 51 (directed on the West End in 2015 by Michael Grandage and starring Nicole Kidman; winner of the WhatsOnStage Award for Best New Play; previously produced at EST and Seattle Rep among others), The Last Match (The Old Globe Theatre; City Theatre), Boy (Keen Company/EST/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award nominee), A Delicate Ship (The Playwrights Realm; Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), and Another Way Home (upcoming in Washington DC at Theater J; previously produced at The Magic Theatre). Ziegler’s plays have been developed at The Sundance Theatre Lab, O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Williamstown Theatre Festival, New York Stage and Film, and Soho Rep, among others, and are published by Dramatists Play Service. An upcoming collection will be published by Oberon Books. She is a graduate of Yale and holds an M.F.A. in dramatic writing from Tisch.

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