Five decades ago, Paul Greengard was facing a tough decision. Greengard had just earned an undergraduate degree in physics and was planning to go on to graduate school, but he was worried that a graduate degree in physics would inevitably lead to work in the atomic weapons industry. Greengard, a veteran who had served in the Navy in World War II, found the prospect unsettling.
He had heard word, though, of a unique new graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania. The program was in a new discipline of science--biophysics--that was cross-pollinating physics and biology by applying the principles of atomic physics and other areas of physical research to problems in biology.
Greengard didn't know it then, but he'd just set his feet on a path that would lead to The Johns Hopkins University, and, 50 years later, to one of science's highest awards: a Nobel Prize.
Early last week, Greengard, now the director of the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience at Rockefeller University, learned that the Nobel Prize committee in Stockholm had named him one of three co-recipients of the prize in physiology or medicine. All were cited for the insights they have developed into the basic workings of the brain and the nervous system.
Shortly after Greengard joined the biophysics program at Penn, the program's leader, Detlev Bronk, came to Johns Hopkins to serve as its president. He brought the biophysics program and its future Nobel laureate with him, where Greengard would be among the first to get a doctorate from the program.
Greengard came back to Hopkins in June 1999 to speak at the Biophysics Department's 50th anniversary. While Greengard was a student at Hopkins, the chairman of biophysics was H. Keffer Hartline, who later went on to win a Nobel Prize of his own in physiology or medicine, in 1967 for his work with optics.
Warner Love, professor emeritus of biophysics, met Greengard while doing summer work at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole in Massachussetts.
"He was taking an embryology course up there in the summer, and my mentor's group had a lab up there," Love remembered. "He was a bit frustrated. The focus back then was to look at electrical activity in the nervous system, which is the means by which nerve cells communicate. But he was more interested in the biochemistry of the nervous system, and that's what his Ph.D. thesis was in. Ever since he was a graduate student, this has been the focus of his research, and this culminated in a Nobel Prize."
Greengard is the 27th Nobel Prize winner with a Hopkins affiliation. For a complete list, logon to www.jhu.edu/news_info /news/home00/oct00/nobel.html. To read about Greengard's work, go to www.rockefeller.edu/pubinfo/greengard.nr.html.