Nobel Prize-winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburn, a pioneering molecular biologist and highly respected leader in the scientific community, on Wednesday was named president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Blackburn will join the Salk Institute from the University of California, San Francisco, where she is a professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics. She will assume her new role effective Jan. 1.
“Few scientists garner the kind of admiration and respect that Dr. Blackburn receives from her peers for her scientific accomplishments and her leadership, service and integrity,” said Irwin M. Jacobs, chairman of Salk’s Board of Trustees and co-founder of Qualcomm. “Her deep insight as a scientist, her vision as a leader, and her warm personality will prove invaluable as she guides the Salk Institute on its continuing journey of discovery.”
Blackburn won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for discovering the molecular nature of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving genetic information, and for co-discovering telomerase, an enzyme that maintains telomere ends. Both telomeres and telomerase are thought to play central roles in aging and diseases such as cancer, and her work helped launch entire new fields of research in these areas.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Blackburn has received nearly every major award in science, including the Lasker, Gruber and Gairdner prizes. She is a member of numerous prestigious scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the Royal Society of London.
Blackburn is no stranger to the institute. Since 2001, she has served as a Salk non-resident fellow, one of a group of leading scientists that advise the institute’s leadership and play key decision-making roles in the appointment and promotion of Salk professors.
“I am truly honored to be asked to be the next president of the Salk Institute. The Salk is full of absolutely terrific people and brimming with great science. Building on its distinguished history and current success, I am delighted to be playing a role in continuing and growing its major contributions to science and health research,” said Blackburn.
Blackburn was born on Australia’s Tasmania island to a family of doctors and scientists. Her parents were both family physicians and her grandfather and great-grandfather were geologists. Inspired by her fascination with animals and a biography of the iconic Polish-born French scientist Marie Curie, Blackburn chose to also pursue a career in science.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biochemistry from the University of Melbourne, and received her doctorate in molecular biology from Cambridge University in England in 1975. She conducted postdoctoral research at Yale University from 1975 to 1977.
Blackburn joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley in 1978. She moved to the University of California, San Francisco in 1990.
The Salk Institute in La Jolla is one of the world’s preeminent basic-research institutions. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, the institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.
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