This is (a photo of ) Dr. Ernest Armstrong McCulloch
who was a Canadian scientist.
I want to tell you a little about him today.
Now when we think of a Scientist
we think of someone who has a great interest
in some particular scientific question.
The usual image ..that we have of…Our scientist….
is that …he….might , e.g, be found sitting at his microscope ,
or.. she…. might have an endless fascination with reproductive physiology,
or.. he…. might be seen scribbling equations on dinner napkins,
…..as did Albert Einstein.
This is the popular conception, the stereotype….
of ….“The Scientist”
However, successful scientists
usually have other apparently unrelated interests
which they pursue ….outside of the laboratory.
Einstein…loved violins, and sailboats .
Alfred Nobel…wrote plays, and poetry,
and Frederick Banting , who discovered insulin
…enjoyed painting Canadian landscapes.
Well, for Canadian scientist
Ernest Armstrong McCulloch…..
whose nick name by the way was…..”Bun”..
Bun McCulloch’s passionate Avocation…his hobby,
Dr. McCulloch loved …Words.
The science that Dr. McCulloch did
was centred on Hematology….the study of blood.
at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto
and he became very well known,
as the man who
along with his colleague , Dr. Edward Till,
discovered something called… Stem Cells
Stem Cells are the blood cells
which we all carry around in our Bone marrow.
These cells are interesting…
because they have the ability to….. differentiate..
which means that they can transform
into whatever kind of cell it is that
the body needs to have replaced
at any given moment.
They can turn into…a red blood cell, or a white blood cell,
or cells from other kinds of tissue,
such as bone , or liver.
Stem cells are part of
the miraculous machinery of the human body.
So that was Dr. McCulloch’s Vocation
but his Avocation as I noted
was that he loved words,
both written.. and spoken.
He committed them to memory,
he recited them,
he played with them,
and he devoured them by the shelf load-
as he read history books, biographies, science fiction, plays, poetry.
He loved all of these forms of literature.
The key here is that apparently for Dr. McCulloch
“a word …was the skin of an idea”
…as somebody once said.
and no doubt this helped him as a scientist….
because as such… he was an ideas man.
and it was his job to generate ideas
So while he was doing work in his laboratory
that led to such medical advances
as bone marrow transplants,
and at the same time that he was a mentor, and an icon
for a generation of young scientists who came after him,
he had a parallel life,
as a husband,….. and father of five,
and also as a lover of language, and literature.
In fact, the two activities often came together.
E.g. When Bun was courting his wife,
whose name was Ona,
Bun wooed Ona … with lines
from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses.
And every Christmas he read aloud, to his family,
Charles Dicken’s… A Christmas Carol
and C. S. Lewis’ … Narnia series,
and , according to his son Jim,
over the years of their family life
Bun McCulloch read aloud to the family
the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy
not just once, but at least , three times
You would wonder how his family
could stand that,
but, according to Jim , his father
had a sort of mesmerizing speaking voice, and delivery,
and in fact one of the family friends
referred to Bun McCulloch, as “The Voice.”
One of McCullough’s younger colleagues
was Dr. Alan Bernstein.
In 1967 Bernstein
was working in McCulloch’s lab
for the summer, as a young intern.
On one particular occasion
Bernstein was presenting a project to the McCulloch group
on the subject of Macrophages,
which are a kind of white blood cell
found in the human body.
When he was right in the middle of his presentation,
Dr. McCulloch, who was seated in the audience
suddenly shouted out….”Shaw!”
That was it,….. no other comment,….. just….”Shaw”.
This was obviously disconcerting to the young presenter Bernstein
but as no explanation was forthcoming from the great man
the only thing that the speaker could do
was carry on, which he did, finishing his presentation.
It was only later that Bernstein learned
that McCulloch’s sudden interjection
was a reference to …..
none other than George Bernard Shaw
and more specifically to a play that Shaw wrote,
called “The Doctor’s Dilemma”
in which, one character warns anotherto “Beware the Macrophage.”
So presumably this was an example
of humour, McCulloch style .
and perhaps he was making some scientific judgment as well.
It was all rather obscure.
Well , just as he liked to read aloud to everybody at home,
McCulloch’s style in his laboratory was the same.
He often thought out loud in the lab.
He used sort of a stream of conscious technique,
while he was working.
He articulated ideas constantly, as they came to his head,
and …he expected others to do the same.
So His labs must have been rather chaotic.
If there was a visiting scientist
who was presenting some material in McCulloch’s lab,
they were never permitted to use slides,
no matter how prominent the scientist was.
And of course, scientists
always use slides…. to present data..
its one of the rules of science.
But the Bun Rule was….no slides,
and Dr. McCulloch enforced this rule enthusiastically.
He would tell the visitor
that if he wanted to know about their data
he could look it up.
He would say.. “Tell us what you are thinking…
Give us a …Chalk Talk.”
He loved these, what he called… Chalk Talks.
When he wasn’t in the lab
he would often invite 10 or 15 people
to his cottage in Haliburton,
where where he would stand at the blackboard,
to pontificate on some scientific point, chalk in hand,
and then , he would invite others…. to do the same.
According to Bernstein,
McCulloch “always had a piece of chalk in his hand,
and quite often in his mouth.” during these talks.
McCulloch’s chalk talks…were rousing.
His lectures…were inspiring.
His speeches, which were often a re write
of something composed by another scientist
were invariably an improvement on the original.
McCulloch was enthusiastic.
He got very excited about his work.
Another one of his proteges was Ronald Worton.
Wortonjoined McCulloch’s lab in 1964,
and he recalled approaching his boss one time
for help on Worton’s first research paper on stem cells,
which he hoped to publish.
McCulloch listened carefully
while Worton presented his data
and then the great man paced the office floor for a few minutes, pondering,
and then….he proceeded to dictate the entire research manuscript
from start to finish- in not more than 20 minutes.
The final version did not even need much editing.
So Bun McCulloch’s abiding interest in words
gave him a great facility
in both speaking, and writing,
whether scientific or literary.
The McCulloch lab
published their first paper on stem cells
in 1961 in a journal called ….Radiation Research.
It came from an experiment that they had done
transplanting irradiated bone marrow cells into mice
This experiment lead to the discovery of these
important precursor, or stem, cells, in 1961.
The two men, McCulloch and Till,
continued to work together over the next twenty years,
as a result of which they won
many prestigious scientific awards and prizes.
although the big one .. got away on them.
because McCulloch passed away
without winning the Nobel Prize,
for which many thought that he was a candidate.
However, for Dr. Ernest Armstrong McCulloch
it all came down to one thing…
and that was…..Words.
For Bun McCulloch,
who was a great Canadian scientist,
a word , was the skin of an idea.