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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

Robert Langer: I was 11 years old. I had this Gilbert chemistry set. I have always liked magic. This maybe sounds silly, but I always liked magic, and chemistry is always very magical. I mean, the kinds of things, like I remember, when I was a little boy, you have these solutions and you could take one solution and mix it with another, and all of a sudden it would change to a third color. You could mix one thing with another and it would turn into rubber, and those are reactions. I thought, "Boy, this is really neat!" I guess I was just always fascinated with that. So I think maybe just the visualization -- even when I didn't understand things that well -- I thought it was fun and exciting. And then I guess when I actually took chemistry, there was something -- I don't want to say magical -- about it, but something that I enjoyed solving the problems, the chemistry problems, and I enjoyed reading about some of the things. Not all of the things. I was excited about what it could do.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

I think chemistry is just so fundamental, that reactions can happen and you can make things that you could never make before. When you look at the world around us, chemistry just is so fundamental to everything. I mean, it makes the clothes you wear, it makes all of the materials that exist -- synthetic materials in the world -- cars, the airplanes, everything is done by chemistry. At the same time, chemistry provides a tool to understand so many things: how cells work, how drugs work. So to me it's just such an incredibly fundamental science.
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Meave Leakey

Pioneering Paleoanthropologist

I was always collecting insects and caterpillars and this and that. We had a very small cottage because it was the war years, so my father was away in the war. We were living in a small cottage in Kent with woods all around it. So I used to go out and collect all these little insects and things like that. I really loved nature even in those days. My mother said -- we had a little porch and the porch was full of jars of things that I used to feed everyday -- she had a number of stories of how I kept little furry caterpillars. I used to keep them on a matchstick and go to bed with them and then they'd get out in the night and there were furry caterpillars all over the bed. But I don't remember too much about it. I just remember vague things. I think the memories --you never know how much you remember and how much you've been told and you put things together. But I think, really, in those days I was interested. Then, my father was very interested in natural history, and as a child he had always done that sort of thing. He used to take a lot of photographs, so he taught me how to develop and print photographs when I got older. He had all these wonderful pictures of wildlife and birds, and snakes and lizards, and all sorts of things. I remember just loving spending time with him in the workshop and in the dark room. And learning how, and seeing all his photographs that he hadn't really looked at for years and years.
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Meave Leakey

Pioneering Paleoanthropologist

All scientists are driven by this enormous curiosity. They want to know why something does this, or why something looks like that, or how something works. Every scientist is just driven by this enormous curiosity to find the answer to some question. It's the same with us. We're wandering around in the desert, in the wind and the sun and the heat, and we know if we look hard enough, we're going to find a fossil that will tell us something we didn't know before. It's incredibly obsessive really. You just know if you keep at it, you know you're going to get the answer. The frustration is that you can't do it all the time, because you have to take breaks, and you have to write up, and you have to raise money and all this sort of thing. So I think that, for anyone going into science, whatever branch of science, they have that same curiosity that drives them.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

I loved to hear stories from periodically listening to my parents and their visitors. They had a lot of visitors because they were quite successful people. Hearing about how people had done extraordinary things, gone to extraordinary places. I was particularly excited about the idea of science, discovering new things. My parents used to talk, as I have done to my children, about the excitement of being the first to know something, that you know later will become known to millions of people through publication, the first to see something and to understand something. Those sort of concepts certainly excited me.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

I think I'm, like many people, curious. We are an unusual species. We do the strangest things. We are very complicated, and we're all interested in how we came to be what we are. The vast majority of people are quite happy with an explanation that was offered a couple of thousand years ago, that we were somehow the product of a very wise God who decided that we should be created in his image. Now, as somebody who has grown up in science and been steeped in the concepts of evolution, this never worked for me. But it doesn't work to say, "Well, I don't believe God made us," if I don't know what did produce us. So, I have had a natural inclination to want to follow the biological explanation of how we came to be what we are. That's a very complex and prolonged story. The exciting thing about it is it can't be done in isolation of the origin of life and the whole story of where did the zebra come from and where did the giraffe come from, where did the fruit fly come from and where did the tomato come from. These are all equally interesting parts of our story.
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