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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

I knew the fossils. I knew the background. I had a lot of energy, and I was fairly cheap, and so I would be sent off with a vehicle and a couple of men to explore the possibility of A or the possibility of B, and so I got into field work and prehistory that way. Fortunately, my first real venture into looking for fossils in a small group resulted in a very important discovery. That was in late '63 or early '64, where we discovered a lower jaw of an Australopithecus that had not been found before. It was in perfect condition. We found it on the first attempt, and so that got me very excited, and I began to realize that there were probably a lot more of these things, and that if you find these things, you get a position in the ladder which you can't get to unless you have either got an education or something else. So by finding important things, you immediately get into the game, which you'd been excluded from otherwise.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

Richard Leakey: Finding fossils, you've got to be looking in the right place, so an understanding of geology is very important. You've got to be able to locate areas where there might be fossils, because of the geological evidence or conditions under which fossils are formed, and conditions under which fossils might now be re-exposed through erosion. Then you've got to ascertain that there are fossils where you are looking, and then you have got to look mighty hard, and you can look and look and look and not find anything, go back exactly to the same place a year later, and there was something there all the time. It really is a question of persistence and doggedness, but you could look as doggedly as you like in the wrong place and never find it. So there is an element of subliminal knowledge that plays a major part that a lot of people obviously don't have. I had it because I was raised in it. It was second nature to me.
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Leon Lederman

Nobel Prize in Physics

Leon Lederman: We formed a team. We formed a not-for-profit academy called The Teachers Academy in Chicago, and we were trying to set up a model for changing all the cities in the United States. I mean, my own research is in particle physics, which involves huge accelerators, and we learned from that, that you might as well do it right by doing the whole system. So here we are in the third largest school system in the nation, Chicago, trying to re-train all the teachers. Not a teacher in one school here, or two schools, or ten schools, or fifty schools, but 600 schools, all the teachers in Chicago. Re-train them in ways of teaching math and science that are delightful because it's a wonderful way to start a kid in being interested in learning.
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Leon Lederman

Nobel Prize in Physics

Leon Lederman: I love science, and I think the hardest thing for young people is to know what they want. It takes effort to really know what you want. You want an extra income? If you're really interested in becoming wealthy, then you don't want to go into science. It's not impossible, but unlikely that that's a road to wealth. You really have to know what makes you happy and that takes a little effort. What makes you pleasurable? What makes you say, "Thank God it's Monday," instead of "Thank God it's Friday." That's a lot. You're going to spend some vast fraction of your life in your business, whatever it is, whether it's running a lathe, running a corporation, or running an experiment. Therefore, you want to really enjoy that, otherwise it's a dumb thing you're going to do. If you hate to go to work, even though you're making three times as much as a scientist, probably you're life will not be that satisfying. The biggest effort is, know thyself. That's Shakespeare, right? "To thine own self be true." It's not easy, so you've got to have some experiences. I generally advise kids to, you know, take the hardest courses, because that's useful. Aim high, because you can always fall back, but if you aim low, there's nothing to fall back to. You know? Try hard things, and there's always fall-back. You can always do less and still have fun at it. Especially in college: smorgasbord! Try everything. Listen to the best professor, whether it's a Latin professor, or an economics professor.
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Robert Lefkowitz

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The next series of discoveries, after we had purified this receptor, was to do what's called "cloning the gene." Okay. That allows us, because of the work on DNA, which we'd been hearing a bit about at this meeting. And of course, by the '80s this was the era when recombinant DNA was picking up steam. All based on Jim Watson and (Francis) Crick's original discovery -- from, I guess, the '60s -- about DNA. So we were able to ultimately clone the gene for this one particular receptor and thereby deduce it's complete amino acid sequence. And when we did that, we made a remarkable discovery. And the discovery was it looked just like another molecule. And that molecule is called rhodopsin and rhodopsin is the molecule in the eye that allows you to see. And when we saw that -- this was in 1986, we realized immediately that, you know, I'll bet there's a huge family of receptors that all look at this. In a sense, rhodopsin is a light receptor and it looked just like what's called a beta adrenergic receptor, which was one of these adrenaline receptors that I was studying. I said, "If these two, so disparate in their function, look alike, what about receptors for histamine, serotonin, dopamine? You name it. I bet they all look alike." So using the techniques that we had developed, very quickly over the next few years, we were able to get the genes for about 10 or 12 of these different receptors. And they all looked the same. I mean, they had distinct sequences, very close though. I mean, you might have 60 to 70 percentof all the amino acids would be the same. But enough were different that they did different things.
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Robert Lefkowitz

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Mrs. Gordon taught AP English. And she took a disliking to me for some reason early on, and she didn't like the way I wrote, so she gave me very bad grades on all my essays. She pounded into me about how to write clear, effective, succinct English. And I learned those lessons well. But what I remember -- and I pay her a tremendous tribute for that because there's no more important skill, certainly for a scientist, but really for almost any profession, than to be able to express yourself clearly and succinctly. And I think she really taught me that. She actually did the following, I think, ridiculous thing. She went around the class the day before we were to take the AP exam and predicted, and wrote on the board what she thought each of us would get. I don't know if you know anything about that scoring system. But five is the highest grade you can get, then four, and three, and two. And depending on what score you got, when you went to college the next year, you might either -- if you got a top grade, you might get not just placed out of that course, but you might actually get credit for it. If you got a four, somewhere, three, less. And if you got below a three, it was like you didn't take the course. So for many in the class, she predicted a five and some a four. And for me she predicted a three and one other kid. And then she said she would write the scores on the board in a few weeks when they came in. P.S., I got a five. And I still remember looking at her when she wrote that up there. And I could see she was not happy about it. Oh, I'm sure she was happy, but she didn't like the idea that she had been that off the mark. Anyway, that was Mrs. Gordon.
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