At 88, Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies still finds science fun and exciting, and continues to pursue research in the subject to improve quality of human life.

He wants the younger generation to enjoy science and develop a passion for scientific research.

He also wants countries and companies to spend more on research.

“Return on investment in scientific research is very high...it is always money well spent. Countries and companies that have spent on research have developed,” he told media persons on the sidelines of a lecture to mark the foundation day of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology here on Monday.

The British-born American geneticist was announced as co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells in 2007.

His current research work was connected to a particular complication related to pregnancy that occurs in one out of 20 pregnant women.

“The complication leads to kidney showing signs of damage and if the blood pressure shoots up, the pregnant women can get stroke,” he said.

Another area he is working on is related to a better understanding of the working of the human kidney.

Reiterating that interest in science should not dwindle, he pointed out that actor Rex Harrison (of the My Fair Lady fame) and artist Picasso had one thing in common.

“Even at the age of 80, Harrison was acting and Picasso painting.

“It was not for money, but they had this passion (for acting and painting). I want this kind of passion in youngsters,” he said.

Self-deprecating lecture

Although his lecture earlier was scientific, Smithies could hold the attention of the audience with his trademark wit and barbs on himself. Talking about one of his earlier papers published in a journal, he asked: “You know what record it holds?”

He paused and then replied: “Nobody ever quoted it. But I still enjoyed writing it. The value of a Phd is not what you discover, but how you learn to do good science,” he said.

amitmitra@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 18, 2013)
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