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Mario Capecchi ’56 Speaks at George School

Nobel Prize winner Mario Capecchi ’56 presented the lecture, The Making of a Scientist: An Unlikely Journey.

Last week, Nobel Prize winner and George School graduate Mario Capecchi ’56 visited campus. He spoke to science classes, attended the IB Group 4 Science Project Symposium, and gave a lecture to a packed Molly Dodd Anderson Library Conference Room.

Mario’s talk, The Making of a Scientist: An Unlikely Journey, led the audience through his harrowing childhood in Europe during World War II, his relocation to the United States, his experience at George School, and the beginnings of a groundbreaking career in molecular genetics research.

Born in Italy in 1937, Mario was left on his own at the age of four when his mother was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. He lived on the streets for the next four years, nearly dying of malnutrition, until his mother found him in a hospital. Mario and his mother soon relocated to Pennsylvania, where he spent the rest of his childhood, eventually attending George School. After graduating from Antioch College in Ohio, Mario went on to Harvard University, where he joined the lab of James D. Watson, the renowned co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Dr. Watson served as Mario’s thesis advisor, and in 1967, Mario received his PhD in biophysics.

During his lecture, Mario explained the long research process that led to the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, a prize that he shared with Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies for their pioneering work in gene targeting in mice.

Mario left the audience with a few important takeaways beyond the scientific lessons. He encouraged the students to treasure their time at George School and to follow their dreams and desires. He also stressed the importance of collaboration throughout his career, recounting the serendipity of finding research partners whose scientific interests perfectly complemented his own. “By collaborating, you go much further than if you competed. Two points of view are always better than one,” said Mario.

The George School community was thrilled to have an alum who has made such a profound impact on science speak on campus.

“Mario is one of us, part of our own George School history,” said Ralph Lelii, IB program director. “Mario is a powerful reminder for me that there is indeed magic in this world, and a great deal of it lies in discovering the genetic miracle of our makings, and how its understanding might foster a profound sense of humility.”

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