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Professor Alexander David Peacock
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Professor Alexander David Peacock
Part of The Dundee Oral History Project
Joining Biochemistry department in October 1981. First in the Medical Sciences Institute on West end of campus. Was shared between biochemistry department and anatomy department. Labs have been redone since then.
He came to Dundee because there was a job. Was a good move to go to Dundee but at the time had no idea that it would be a good move. Had heard of Peter Garland but didn't know him yet, also Philip Cohen and could see that Philip was a rising star but still didn't think you could know the extent of how successful it would become.
Few key absolutely stellar individuals and then excellent people not quite in stellar league - puts self in excellent league. Fellows of Royal Society members in Dundee as a criteria for excellence. People bringing in grant support, being invited to international meetings, being published in best journals. If there's one single person that made all the difference then it's Philip being part genius part plodder, be a good manager.
Adam Neville believing in excellence and recognising that you had to invest in success, directing money. David Lane and David Glover setting up a modern powerhouse and were very important although have left now. Energetic, go-getting people like Angus Lamond and Mike Ferguson. Mike absolutely key, a very good scientist but also terrific organiser, has huge vision for Life Sciences. Has energy to put into practice and has killer quality that you can't say no to him because he's such a nice person and you know he's thought everything out well. Summarises that Peter Garland started it, recruited Lilley with Philip Cohen being largely involved and Mike Ferguson being other main key individual.
Future growth and expansion of Life Sciences. Currently Life Sciences has become a test, the new young people being brought in have to be the next Philip Cohen's and Mike Ferguson's.
He discusses his relationship with Peter Garland. He was one of those people who was never quite as good as he should have been because he would move onto the next exciting thing as soon as something was going well. Was lightyears ahead of his time, was thinking about single molecule fluorescence experiments long before they were possible to do them. Peter saw a kindred soul in David Lilley. Chris Higgens appointed at same time, put them in slight rivalry position of who could rise the fastest. Chris saw Philip as a role model but David very much saw Peter as a role model. Intellectually closer to Peter than Philip.
Competitiveness amongst scientists but mostly you vs people in your own field - but not within Dundee complex. Not known any place as free from politics and bitching, all too busy and successful to get caught up in politics. Remembers lab in California where all they did was moan about their colleagues.
Transformation from Biochemistry into Life Sciences. David Lilley always stayed out of politics, wants to get on in the lab. Research and teaching split. Used to be involved heavily in teaching and would give 15-20 lectures a year for 20-25 years. After the teaching split and was brought down into the level of the divisions, Lilley was forgotten about and has never had to teach since - but does do teaching in China.
Post-docs in his lab, research group has 9 people in it. Sees them every day and speaks to them for multiple hours every day. Thinks is sad that many researchers don't do any of their own experiments anymore. Most exciting time for him is his lab meetings.
Old Well road cinema used to be used for exams and lab meetings. 1988 most exciting lab meetings Lilley ever remembers where they solved a very important DNA structure. Exciting being first person on planet to figure out what something means, is always a thrill.
Funny anecdote about old postdoc Carlos, a quiet and gentle man. Story about accidentally insulting his mother-in-law not realising that she was actually in the room.
Virtually no crossovers with pharmaceuticals. Lilley's lab very much basic science, is funded by Cancer Research UK. Old chemistry department being closed down, but remnants of that - particularly organic chemistry - were merged into current complex. Lilley doesn't know much about teaching side but assumes must teach some aspect of chemistry.
When he was 10 years old he remembers his first chemistry lesson and wanted to make a career out of it. At 14 found accessible newspaper articles about Nobel Prize winners and discovered biology was a molecular science, gave a lecture at 15 years old to his school science society. Did chemistry at university then did PhD in quantum mechanics - was originally at chemistry-physics-mathematics interface. Then went into biology, but have always been at the biology-chemistry-physics interface, thinks those are most exciting places to be. Believes science is a continuum and everyone should be taught all of these.
Current research on nucleic acids, DNA and RNA. Work from a structural and mechanistic and biophysical perspective. Do x-ray crystallography, single molecule experiments, kinetics, grow bugs and make proteins etc. Collaborations with Anton/Tony Gartner, and John Rouse. Used to collaborate with David Norman.
Discussion of Lilley's records. Conference where he has invited all his former collaborations for 40 years of his lab (and 70th birthday) and has written 6-page lab history and scientific history diagram. Mentions Royal Society writing his biography after he passes away, was worried due to heart problems 10 years ago.