Institute for Cancer Research (Philadelphia

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Video conference

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Helen Berman, Professor Emerita at Rutgers, where she remains affiliated with the Proteomic Center and the Institute for Quantitative Medicine. Berman recounts her childhood in Brooklyn, her early adventures in science working in a lab at Barnard College, and she expounds on how Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” concept, which she learned as an undergraduate, continues to shape her thinking today. Berman explains her early interests and talents in crystallography, which she learned from Barbara Low of Columbia. Berman describes her decision to pursue her graduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked with George Jeffrey and where she completed her dissertation on carbohydrate crystallography. She explains the sequence of events leading to her career at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia where she researched nucleic acids, and how a personal health scare led her to make a significant personal and career shift. Berman describes her early involvement with the Protein Data Bank at Brookhaven Lab and her vision to harness computational power to grow the PDB into a massive collaborative effort and the rise of structural bioinformatics. In the last portion of the interview, Berman describes her decisions to move to California, and her recent foray into documentaries that focus on human health issues HIV and diabetes, which stem from her broader interest in improving the way that scientists interface with the broader public.