The Scientists We Lost in 2013

A couple weeks ago, All Things Considered asked me to talk about the deaths in 2013 of three Nobel-prize winning scientists: Francois Jacob, Frederick Sanger, and David Hubel. I had blogged about Jacob’s death in April, and reflecting on his career in conjunction with those of Sanger and Hubel was a thought-provoking experience. In some ways, these three scientists seemed worlds apart–Jacob poring over bacteria feeding on sugar, Sanger tearing apart insulin molecules, and Hubel using electrodes to eavesdrop on neurons in the brains of cats.

But what unites them all, I think, was their ability to use the very simple scientific tools available to scientists in the 1950s to open up vast realms of biological complexity–from the orchestral activity of the genome to the reality-building network of cells in our brains.

Here’s the story that NPR producer Rebecca Hersher put together for last night’s show. I’ve embedded it below:

Of course, there would have been plenty to say about many other troikas of scientists who passed away this year. On Twitter, ecologist Jacquelyn Gill reminded me of the pioneering ecologist Ruth Patrick, for example. Neuroscientist John Kubie pointed me to his homage to Robert Muller, who did ground-breaking work on memory. The Scientist has a longer list on their blog. While we mourn their loss, science preserves their memory in the research that goes on today, made possible by their earlier work.