Andrew Z. Fire, one of two winners of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, has been an adjunct professor in the Biology Department at The Johns Hopkins University since 1989.
Fire obtained the part-time appointment when he became a senior researcher at the Carnegie Institution’s Baltimore-based Department of Embryology. Though he is now a professor of pathology and genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Fire remains active at Johns Hopkins, advising and mentoring graduate students in the Biology Department.
Fire shares the Nobel with Craig C. Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. 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 first published their findings in 1998, during Fire's time in Baltimore as a staff member at the Carnegie Institution, RNAi has become a widespread research tool. Staff members at Carnegie's Embryology Department automatically receive an unpaid part-time adjunct position in the Biology Department at Johns Hopkins, where they typically work with the department's graduate students.
Fire continues his support of the department’s graduate students, mentoring Frederick Tan’s thesis on apoptosis in C. elegans. Tan describes Fire as “an insightful, helpful and inspiring mentor.”
“(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.”
Assistant Professor Blake Hill, who also is mentoring Tan and has worked with Fire, calls the Nobel winner “a scientist’s scientist.”
“I am very excited about today’s announcement, because not only does it recognize the importance of Andy’s contribution to our knowledge of an essential process to life, but it also recognizes an investigator who is an inspiration to me and my colleagues,” Hill said.
Hill said that Fire "loves to think deeply about scientific problems and data; he is careful not to over interpret his data in a climate that encourages such behavior. His approach often involves following up on minor, yet unexplainable observations in a given experiment."
"In my opinion," Hill said, "this approach has resulted in his research being unique, as he follows his own keen instincts instead of what is currently trendy or fundable. In short, he is exactly the type of person you want to see win the Nobel Prize: a nice guy who is thoughtful, considerate and insightful.”
Mark Van Doren, an associate professor, 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 says. “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. The 1886 Ph.D. graduate of the university won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. A list of prior Johns Hopkins-affiliated winners of Nobel Prizes in online here.
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