I was born on April 26th, 1932 in Blackpool, England. My childhood went by quickly. I was very bright in elementary school. My family wasn’t to rich, so I didn’t have the option to go to a private school. Luckily I earned a Scholarship to Arnold School. And although I didn’t like my peers, I tried hard at school and I did well.
I was not proficient in Latin and so was not able to go to Oxford or Cambridge. However, I did enter the first-rate chemistry honours program at the University of Manchester in 1950, where the professors were E.R.H. Jones and M.G. Evans, and graduated in 1953, with the financial support of a Blackpool Education Committee Scholarship.
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I had hoped to get a first-class degree, but only got a 2(i)! I was very disappointed. However, I still was able to obtain a State Scholarship which supported me throughout my graduate studies until I finished my Ph.D. degree in 1956. My supervisor was H.B. Henbest. He was an outstanding young organic chemist, and I was glad to have him as a supervisor of my work on cyclohexane diols. However, we did not have a particularly warm relationship.
I was socially shy and moody and was probably quite hard to understand. I heard of a very intelligent scientist in Vancouver, Gobind Khorana. I wrote to him and was awarded a fellowship after an interview in London with the Director of the British Columbia Research Council, Dr. G.M. Shrum.
I arrived in Vancouver in September 1956. My first project was to develop a general, efficient procedure for the chemical synthesis of nucleoside-5′ triphosphates based on the synthesis of ATP by Khorana in 1954. Not the easiest thing to do let me tell you that. In 1960, the Khorana group, including myself, newly married (I have three children, Tom, Ian, and Wendy. My wife Helen and we separated in early 1983), moved to the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin.
I enjoyed my time there because of the opportunity it presented to learn about marine biology and I was able to sustain my interest in nucleic acid chemistry because of the award of a U.S. National Institutes of Health Grant, which led to a new synthetic method for nucleoside-3′,5′ cyclic phosphates. However, the atmosphere of the laboratory, although based on the campus of the University of British Columbia, was not really conducive to, or supportive of, academic research.
In 1986, I was asked by the then Dean of Science at the University of British Columbia, Dr. R.C. Miller, Jr., to establish a new interdisciplinary institute, the Biotechnology Laboratory. I decided that it was time for me to start paying back for the thirty years of fun that I had been able to have in research. I enjoyed recruiting and helping to get established the group of young faculty members that constitute the core of the Biotechnology Laboratory. I also have enjoyed being Scientific Leader of the National Network of Centres of Excellence in Protein Engineering that was funded in 1990.
In 1993 my work had won me a Nobel Prize. I was thrilled. I donated half my money to young scientists. A quarter-million! In addition to the Nobel Prize, I held a long list of awards and distinctions in recognition of my research and administrative contributions to Canadian science. I was also a Companion of the Order of Canada and received 25 honorary doctorates. I was a committed contributor to the transfer of biotechnology from research labs to industry; I served as the Scientific Leader of the Protein Engineering Network of Centres of Excellence from 1990 to 1994.
In the year 2000, I passed away.
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