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Faces of Science: Christian de Duve

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Mariana Cook’s book , “Faces of Science,” portrays 77 scientists who have made many of the most important discoveries of our time. Each photograph is accompanied by a personal essay written by the scientists. The portraits in this online series are accompanied by excerpts from those essays. For more information, please visit Mariana Cook’s website: .

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Faces of Science:  Christian de Duve-christian
“Christian de Duve” - Photos and Text ©Mariana Cook “Faces of Science”

“Born in England during the First World War, of Belgian parents with partly German roots, I grew up in the cosmopolitan city of Antwerp, where I had the benefit of a classical education taught in the two national languages of Belgium, French and Dutch. By the time I entered the Catholic University of Louvain, in 1934, I had become familiar with two more languages, thanks to stays with English friends of my family and with German relatives; and I grandiosely called myself a ‘citizen of the world,’ labeling as hopelessly passé my father’s growing worry over the revival of German nationalism. Unfortunately, as fathers often are, he proved to be right.

I watched the rising tragedy from a distance, having meanwhile discovered what was the passion of my life. Although attracted by the humanities, I had chosen medicine as a career, seduced by the image of the ‘man in white’ dispensing care and solace to the suffering. But science was lurking around the corner, in the form of an unpaid student assistantship in the laboratory of physiology. There I was allowed to do a little work in insulin. I promptly fell in love with scientific research and soon had assigned myself, as a major vocation, the task of elucidating the mechanism of action of the antidiabetic hormone.

I have had the good fortune to live, as an inside witness and, even, a modest participant, at a time when our understanding of this wonder we call ‘life’ has made its most revolutionary advances. I contemplate with a mixture of anxiety and confidence the ways in which our future generations will use the knowledge and power ours has gained for them. May they do it with more wisdom than is common in our own day and age.”

Christian de Duve was awarded the shared Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1974, along with Albert Claude and George E. Palade, for describing the structure and function of organelles (lysosomes and peroxisomes) in biological cells.