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James Thomson

Father of Stem Cell Research

James Thomson: It's going to be a pervasive tool that anybody that's interested in the human body and human medicine is going to use. And they won't call them "stem cell biologists" anymore, it'd just be a tool they happen to use, as many other tools. And I think that's going to change human medicine a lot more than this transplantation, because for Parkinson's, for example, there are people that think that transplanting dopaminergic neurons -- that's the neuron that dies in Parkinson's -- will treat or cure that disease. I hope they're right, but there's a good chance that's going to be very hard. Nonetheless, this is the first time we had those neurons in our hands. And it means that we can finally figure out why they're dying. And if you understand why they're dying in the first place, then you shouldn't have to do something as crude as transplanting cells back into the human brain. Hopefully, something like a small molecule will arrest the progression of the disease once we understand the mechanism. So while I'm skeptical whether transplantation will happen anytime soon, I'm not at all skeptical that over my scientific career, we'll have a much better treatment for Parkinson's based on using these cells to understand the biology of those cells. I think that's true about the human body as a whole, is that in some cases, transplantation will work. But for the most cases, you don't want to do that in the first place. You want to make it so you don't have to do the transplant.
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James Thomson

Father of Stem Cell Research

As an undergraduate, one of the places I went was to Woods Hole, and there was a lecture by a conservation biologist named Paul Ehrlich. He talked about captive breeding efforts in zoos. This was about 1980, I think, something like that. And he first dismissed it as being useless, because you need a certain number of individuals to maintain a genetic population. You can quibble about what that number is, but it's a pretty sizeable number. And if you look at the large vertebrates in the world, and you filled up the zoos with that number, you wouldn't cover very many species. I was sitting in the audience, having been just a physics biology person, and not knowing anything practical I thought that environmental people could actually freeze embryos and freeze semen. I didn't know much about that. And that very night, I went back to the house I was living at, and Walter Cronkite was doing an interview at the San Diego Zoo. And there was a woman named Barbara Durrant, with a rat in her hands who had come from a frozen embryo. It was like, "Oh, I was right! You can do that." And it was within the next couple days that I decided that having a veterinary degree would be useful to do that. And ultimately, at the end of vet school, I spent some time at the San Diego Zoo with that particular person. So that's where it dated from. It was this idea that I was interested in field work and also wanted to do some basic science in the lab and trying to bring them together in some way.
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Michael Thornton

Medal of Honor

I saw the movie The Sullivan Brothers about the five brothers who died during World War II, and those family values that my dad had always said, "Your family," you know, "were to die for," you know, basically. And I saw how those five brothers died trying to save the one. And that was a big influence, so I said, "Well, I'm going to join the Navy," when I saw that movie. Then I saw the movie The Frogmen with Richard Widmark. I said, "Well, I'm a good swimmer. I want to be a Navy frogman." Because I loved the excitement. I loved what they were doing and stuff like that. And when I did finally get out of high school -- because when I got out of high school, you were only allowed to miss 30 days and I missed 78 days, and they still graduated me. So I didn't think they wanted me back.
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Clyde Tombaugh

Discoverer of Planet Pluto

Clyde Tombaugh: When I was in the fourth grade, I became intensely interested in geography and I learned it well. In fact, by the time I was in sixth grade I could bound every country in the world from memory. By then the thought occurred to me, "What would the geography be like on the other planets?" So that was my natural entrance into astronomy, you see. So I've been interested in that area particularly ever since.
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Clyde Tombaugh

Discoverer of Planet Pluto

Our sun couldn't be so peculiar as to be the only one, out of octillions of stars, to have a planet with life on it. That's totally against the odds, even if you have only one star out of ten thousand that has a planet that is right for life. We know now from sampling with big telescopes, that the number of stars in the skies is ten to the 21st power. Now, that doesn't mean anything until I tell you that the number of grains of sand in all of the earth's ocean beaches is only ten to the 19th power. So there are a hundred stars to every grain of sand in all the ocean's beaches. They're not all sterile. How could they be? You have to realize there's this enormous potentiality of trillions of planets out there with alien civilizations on them. We are not the center of the universe. We are not all that important. And we're not alone. That's my perspective.
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