Paul Berg to give keynote address at medical school diploma ceremony

The world-renowned biochemist, Nobel laureate, educator and advocate for scientific freedom will speak at the School of Medicine’s commencement on June 16.

Paul Berg

Paul Berg, PhD, the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor of Cancer Research, Emeritus, will be this year’s keynote speaker at the School of Medicine’s diploma ceremony.  

The ceremony will be held from 1-3 p.m. June 16 at Sand Hill Fields, on the lawn adjacent to the Stock Farm Garage. No tickets are required.

A world-renowned biochemist, educator and advocate for scientific freedom, Berg shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work creating the first recombinant DNA molecule. From his pioneering work grew the field of genetic engineering, which has led to lifesaving drugs, new avenues of genetic research and the biotechnology revolution.

Berg came to Stanford in 1959 with a small group of biochemists under the leadership of Nobel laureate Arthur Kornberg, MD, just as the medical school was moving from San Francisco to Palo Alto. This energetic group built the basic science program for which Stanford is known today.

Berg fostered a robust spirit of collaboration among his colleagues, which he credited in part for the landmark 1972 study describing how he and his team inserted DNA from one organism — in this case, the bacterium E. coli — into the DNA of an animal virus.

That accomplishment earned Berg the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and also set off widespread public and political debate about the implications of genetic engineering research. In response, Berg organized the now-famous Asilomar conference on recombinant DNA, where researchers defined guidelines for federal oversight that were promulgated by the National Institutes of Health and similar organizations internationally.

Berg advocated for scientists to become more engaged in debates about the role of science in society. In addition to his advocacy work, he served as chair of the Department of Biochemistry from 1969-74. Convinced that the future of medical research would rely on molecular biology and genetics, Berg helped to raise $50 million to build the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine, which opened at Stanford in 1989. He served as director of the center until 2000.

Admired by students, Berg twice won the Henry J. Kaiser Award for Excellence in Teaching and in 2008 received the Dean’s Medal, which honors outstanding individuals who have helped make the School of Medicine the world-class research enterprise it is today.

Berg is a member of the National Academies of Science and of Medicine, and of the American Philosophical Society. He received the National Medal of Science in 1983 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award in 1982.

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