An Amazing Human Being
a small lab—he never had an army of postdocs working for him—because it was in keeping with his preference for science as a cottage industry.) But somehow—maybe in spite of his lowkey nature, but maybe because of it—he achieved international recognition for his pioneering research on T. gondii. He became known not only for his work but also for his generosity in sharing ideas, advice, and even reagents with other labs both within and outside of Dartmouth.
Many people talk about how Pfefferkorn helped them, about his willingness to share. All too often, scientists compete for ideas and recognition. The malaria field, for instance "is a very selective, politically charged dynamic," says Bzik. "People are competing viciously, literally viciously, for getting the idea, getting the vaccine, or getting the new drug to treat malaria. . . . But in toxo, Elmer was instrumental in getting the field more collegially flavored." Toxoplasma labs nationwide, Bzik explains, meet every other year. "We share our ideas, share our resources." In fact, the first International Congress on Toxoplasmosis was organized by Kasper and Schwartzman and held in 1990 at Dartmouth's Minary Conference Center in Holderness, N.H.
"Whenever you call him up, he's always been willing to share his advice or share reagents, dig something up out of the freezer that he did 30 years ago [and] send it down to you," says Albert Einstein's Louis Weiss. "He never viewed anybody coming into the field as competition."
It was striking to Weiss and others who attended that first toxoplasmosis meeting that "people literally brought their lab notebooks, or raw data, and were putting it up on overhead projectors." That sort of open sharing of data, Weiss says, "is
In some scientific fields, says a colleague, "people are competing viciously . . . for getting the idea, getting the vaccine. . . . But in [toxoplasmosis], Elmer was instrumental in getting the field more collegially flavored."
what you do in a lab meeting, but not something you ever see in an international meeting." He, too, credits Pfefferkorn with "setting the tone that we cooperate."
Perhaps Pfefferkorn's generosity is merely an extension of his love for teaching, sharing knowledge, facilitating learning.
Scientists make their mark not just through their own contributions, says Fanger, "but by the contributions of the individuals who have worked with them."Many people—including Fanger, Bzik, Kasper, and Schwartzman—credit Pfefferkorn with having had a major influence on their careers.
And so does Dr. J. Michael Bishop, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1989 for clarifying the origin of cancer. Since 1998, he has been chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco. When Bishop was a medical student at Harvard, he talked his way into working in Pfefferkorn's lab—something that was unusual at the time. Bishop has commented many times that it was a seminal experience in his career. "My work with Elmer was sheer joy," he says in his autobiography on the Nobel Prize website.
As for Bishop's mentor, Pfefforkorn merely says, modestly, "We tackled a research project. All he learned from me was the frustration of doing research. Well, the pleasure of doing research and also the frustration, I guess. At any rate, he very generously credits me."
That's Elmer Pfefferkorn: Modest. Humble. Unassuming.
And generous. Wise. Loyal. Dedicated. Inspiring. Beloved. Truly beloved.
Laura Carter is Dartmouth Medicine's associate editor. The story about Hepatitis A that begins this feature, as well as the comments by alumni and colleagues in the sidebar, have been lightly edited to aid comprehension in this context. However, as is Dartmouth Medicine's standard practice, all comments in quotation marks represent exactly what the quoted individual said.