Paper Mate

July 30th, 2007

The juxtaposition of stories by Marion Winik ’78 (“The Giveaway Pile,” Alumni P.O.V.) and about Craig Mello ’82 (“Just Smart Enough”) in the May/June issue brought back a memory of cleaning relics of my Brown education out of my dad’s attic about six years ago.

Decades-old textbooks, papers, and notebooks went to the curb. (I saved only my diploma and what knowledge remained in my brain.) Unlike Winik, though, I did look through some of the stuff before dumping it, including a mysterious blue folder dated 1981 that contained other people’s papers. What on earth was I doing with them?

It took me a moment to realize that they were from a biochemical genetics seminar I took in my senior year, taught by Professor Emeritus of Biology Frank Rothman. Each student had prepared a research paper, duplicated it, and passed copies around to classmates for discussion. On top of the pile was a paper by Craig Mello. At the time of the attic cleaning I was a computer scientist working in genomics, and so I knew of Mello’s work. But until that moment I hadn’t realized that he had gone to Brown and shared that small class with me.

I read his old paper, then mine. His sparkled. It was nuanced, sophisticated, and interesting. Mine did not compare well with it. I held in my hands proof that Craig Mello was something special from the beginning. It was exciting to me, and not at all surprising, to hear five years later that he had won the Nobel.

Kathleen McKusick ’81

Redwood City, Calif.

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Related Issue
July / August 2007