Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn - Barbara McClintock: Ahead of Her Time

I met Barbara McClintock cause Bruce Alberts, you know, in his very warm way, he just said, "Oh, you have to meet Barbara McClintock!" So he took me down and I knew he knew how famous she was and so forth. But she just absolutely, kind of enchanted and enraptured me cause she just immediately got deeply into all of this scientific discussion. She had all her ears of corns all around. She was showing us all the different stocks. And she-and actually I remember this very, very clearly because I was telling her that-she was saying, "What do you do when you get strange experimental results?" And I, you know, was a little shy at that point and I just said, "And I've got strange results too that I don't understand." And she said something very wonderful like, you know, really go with your intuition, really trust what you see." She said all these things we now know she is very famous for saying, but it was very influential to me to hear somebody like her, saying what she said. And she was just so nice. Here was this random person who shows up, right-and she was just so nice and talked with me a lot. So when I subsequently come back for a seminar here or for subsequent symposia conferences then I would always go and make a point of visiting with her. And I remember just afternoons when she would be sitting in her, you know, that big office area that she had with lots and lots of file cabinets and books and papers and stuff. She'd have her jellybeans, right, and she would just be talking and talking for like two and three hours and it would get late in the afternoons and she wouldn't put the lights on, and I didn't want to touch a thing. I didn't want to move, right, in case the spell got broken. And she would talk about all these wonderful things which also amazed me because she would go-she would talk about an experiment she did in the thirties, like a very classical experiment she'd done, and then she would then immediately make some reference to some totally new thing that was just come out in a journal a couple of months ago or something. And so you had to be listening very hard because you had to make sure that you were hearing the experiments in their right context: Was this a 1970s or '80s experiment? Or was this a 1930s or '40s experiment? And conceptually she had just kind of, she had seen the modern and the classical linkages and she just sort of fused them intellectually into one kind of fusion.