I was born in 1934 in Hungary in the quaint university town Szeged, whose most celebrated citizen was Albert Szentgyorgyi, the discoverer of vitamin C and much of the citric acid cycle. Thus, my inspiration came early and naturally to follow a career in natural products and biochemistry. In the years 1952-1956 I attended the Eotvos Lorand University of Budapest, which was then a worldclass teaching institution. I was majoring in organic chemistry, but my most enjoyable classes were those offered by physics professor Istvan Cornidesz.
In 1956, while Kornberg discovered DNA polymerase, I had a brief stint as a revolutionary/guerilla fighter in the unsuccessful student movement to oust the Russians and the Communists. They stayed and I ended up running all the way to Zurich, Switzerland, the Mecca of natural products chemistry. In 1957, I started out working for Professor Paul Karrer (Nobel Prize for vitamin A) on the purification of alkaloids from raw calebash curare. My dissertation, led by Prof. Hans Schmid and Dr. W. von Philipsborn, was on the structure elucidation of the main alkaloid, C-curarine. My years in Zurich, 1957-1961, have seen the transformation of a leading laboratory from the artistry of wet-bench chemistry to the button pushing of instrumental analysis. Our lab was among the first ones in the world to adopt thin layer chromatography, gas chromatography, and we had at our disposal one of the first NMR instruments in 1958.
While writing up my dissertation in 1962 I already spent my first postdoctoral year in the lab of Prof. Robert Schwyzer, at Ciba Ltd, in Basle, working on the synthesis of radioactive angiotensin, a peptide hormone. In the meantime, my dissertation earned me the coveted Swiss Federal Fellowship which enabled me to go abroad.
My second postdoctoral year, 1963 was spent in the Chemistry Laboratory of the University of Cambridge, England, with Lord Alexander Todd. Cambridge was then the center of nucleic acids research, and I began specializing in nucleotide synthesis.
There was a blizzard on Jan. 14, 1964 in New York City when the Queen Mary pulled in with 5,000 immigrants on board, and I was one of them. My first job in America was at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, as a Research Scientist in association with Prof. Jay S. Roth. I did not fit in well with the mayflowerites, and in 1965 I moved to the Creighton University School of Medicine, a wonderful, small but elite institution in Omaha. Naturally, I became interested in human health problems, such as cancer and heart disease. As an Assistant Professor, I received a Career Development Award from the National Institute of Health.
In January 1968, I began my permanent job at Texas A&M University as an Associate Professor of Biochemistry. I became a full professor in 1972 and tenured in 1973. In 1983, I suffered a temporary loss of voice because of vocal cord paralysis, caused by medical incompetence, and my voice was restored with a plastic implant. Since that traumatic experience, my research has changed to the study of the materials of sound production.
P.S. I am also a graduate of the ZsaZsa Gabor School of American English (I have not yet mastered contractions in speech, and I pronounce the t in painting).