By Rosalyn Aquila and Gabriel Rom
Most of the year, Harvey Lodish ’62 teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For two weeks this spring, however, the renowned molecular biologist and author ditched urban Cambridge for rural Gambier.
Lodish, who recently finished teaching the intensive course “Special Topic: Stem Cells,” said his short stint as a Kenyon professor sprouted from his desire to reconnect with his alma mater and expose students to current biological research.
“Harvey has thought for a long, long time about trying to come back and do a course like this,” said Karen Hicks, associate professor of biology, who studied under Lodish at MIT.
A stem-cell specialist, Lodish and his colleagues concentrate on engineering stem cells on a molecular level to use them to fight disease. Lodish did two years of postdoctoral research with Drs. Sydney Brenner and Francis Crick, the latter of whom discovered the structure of DNA with Dr. James D. Watson. Lodish has also served on advisory panels for the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and the American Cancer Society. A chemistry and math major at Kenyon, he graduated summa cum laude and with highest honors in both subjects and now serves as an emeritus trustee of the College.
His class offered Kenyon students opportunities they could not find anywhere else in the science curriculum, both in the content and intensity of the course.
“People were really excited about this, because it would give our students this opportunity to interact with a very successful alum, and take a really specialized course,” Hicks said. “My impression is that it was really about guiding Kenyon students through cutting-edge scientific literature in the field of stem cell biology. So the very first class meeting had some lecture component, and the other seven class meetings were really discussion-oriented and each one focused on a different scientific journal.”
Participants in the course came from a diverse group of Kenyon science students – some had never dealt with stem cells before, while others were familiar with molecular biology but not with the research Lodish discussed.
Biology major Graham Sorenson ’12, who had little background in the subject before Lodish’s course, said he gained considerable perspective on how research is conducted at the highest levels of science and learned how to present complex ideas in a concise and accurate way.
Dan Riggins ’12 had a similar experience. “We were forced to become amateur experts on stem cells. It was an immersion experience,” he said.
Aaron Yeoh ’12 also found Lodish’s course different from other Kenyon classes. Besides allowing him a chance to delve into important contemporary research, the course offered him the opportunity to “grapple with very relevant pieces of research that contribute to the field,” he said.
The chance to learn how the mind of a world-renowned scientist ticks was especially rewarding for Riggins.
“He was definitely not a perfect guy, but that’s part of what was very inspiring. He told us from the get-go that he was not a role model,” he said.
Hicks said Lodish is much like the professor she remembers from her graduate years.
“What I remember about him then holds true,” she said. “… He is a very energetic, vibrant, engaged, excited scientist.”
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