Robert Lefkowitz is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who is best known for showing how adrenaline works via stimulation of specific receptors. He was trained at Columbia, NIH, and Harvard before joining the faculty at Duke University and becoming an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In addition to being a researcher, Bob is a cardiologist as well as a cardiac patient. His book is titled: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm: The Adrenaline-Fueled Adventures of an Accidental Scientist.
Some interesting insights from this episode:
- He started out as a physician but he preferred the creativity and experimentation needed in research over the disciplined approach of following standard operating procedures needed to succeed in medicine. He was much more motivated by trying to figure something out that had never been done before.
- He won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery on G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Many basic physiological processes depend on GPCRs and around half of all medications act through those receptors such as beta blockers and antihistamines. This has allowed the treatment of hypertension and coronary disease among many other conditions.
- It was never his intention to cure a disease or create a drug but rather he was driven by raw curiosity to understand a particular biological phenomenon.
- He had two deep-seated feelings in his 20s that he would die young and accomplish something of significance. These premonitions would motivate and propel him throughout his career.
- Because of his passion, social nature and upbeat personality, the press in Stockholm gave him the moniker “The Happiest Laureate”.
- Even for the most successful scientists, their experiments only work about 2% of the time. So you need to learn to live with failure and find a way to stay motivated.
- “Excellence is marshalling whatever your powers are to the fullest extent to do things that are of some inherent value.”
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