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Faces of Science: Paul Berg

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: www.cookstudio.com .

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Faces of Science: Paul Berg-paulberg.jpg
Paul Berg - Photos and Text ©Mariana Cook “Faces of Science”

Discovering something that no one has ever known before can be a very heady experience, especially to a high school science student. I learned that early in a high school science club where an inspiring science “teacher” pushed me to learn by doing, by asking questions and devising experiments to answer those questions. Whether fictional (as in Arrowsmith , by Sinclair Lewis) or biographical (like the medical pioneers in Microbe Hunters , by Paul De Kruif), scientists became my heroes. But I was drawn to biochemistry rather than medicine because discovering the metabolic machinery of humans seemed more challenging intellectually. A hitch in the navy during World War II was only a “bump in the road,” and soon thereafter I completed an undergraduate degree and a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

Paul went on to create the first “recombinant DNA” molecules in 1972, thereby creating the field of genetic engineering. In 1980, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, with particular regard to recombinant DNA.