The first thing that Blake Hill thought when he heard
that Andrew Fire, an adjunct professor in the Krieger
Department, had won the 2006 Nobel Prize in physiology
or medicine was that "Andy is exactly the type of person
you want to see win the Nobel Prize: a nice guy who is
thoughtful, considerate and insightful.
"Andy is a scientist's scientist; he loves to think
deeply about scientific problems and data, and he is
careful not to overinterpret his data in a climate that
encourages such behavior," says Hill, an assistant
professor in the Biology Department. "What's more, he is
amazingly selfless with his time in discussing ideas and
research that are unrelated to his own. A rare trait."
Fire's association with Johns Hopkins began in 1989,
when he became a senior researcher at the Carnegie
Institution's Baltimore-based Department of Embryology;
scientists there receive unpaid part-time adjunct positions
in the Johns Hopkins Biology Department, where they
typically work with graduate students.
Fire shares the Nobel with Craig C. Mello of the
University of Massachusetts Medical School. In an Oct. 2
announcement of the prize, the two were honored by the
Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet for discoveries
related to RNA interference, a process that could
eventually allow researchers to "turn off" the genes that
trigger various illnesses. Since Fire and Mello published
their findings in 1998, RNAi has become a widespread
Though he left the Carnegie Institution in 2003 for
the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he is a
professor of pathology and genetics, Fire remains active at
Johns Hopkins despite the distance between Palo Alto,
Calif., and the Homewood campus in Baltimore. Fire
currently is mentoring Frederick Tan's doctoral thesis on
"Apoptosis in C. elegans."
Tan describes Fire as "an insightful, helpful and
"[Andy] has been willing and enthusiastic in sharing
his tremendous insight to help guide my thesis project,"
Tan said. "From drawing parallels between the apoptic and
mitotic machineries, to drawing parallels between
enzymology and structural biology, Andy has pushed my
thinking in new directions. Whether spending time on a
conference call to craft the perfect presentation title or
taking a moment to help design a now seemingly basic
cloning strategy, Andy doesn't hesitate to do what he loves
best: to help and teach others."
Mark Van Doren, an associate professor who also has
worked with Fire, praises Fire for his support of Johns
Hopkins' graduate program.
"Andy was a great member of our scientific community
before he left for Stanford," Van Doren said. "He cares a
lot about training young scientists and is a fantastic
mentor. He was always thinking of ways to improve the
graduate program here. It's wonderful to see the most
prestigious award in all of science won by someone who is
also such a wonderful colleague, who cares so much about
training future scientists."
Fire is the 32nd person associated in some way with
Johns Hopkins to win a Nobel Prize, dating back to
President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, who received his
doctorate in history from the university in 1886, won the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. A list of all Johns
Hopkins-affiliated winners of Nobel Prizes is online at: