Tenacious, skilled, and self-effacing – these are words used to describe Dr. Hildegard Lamfrom by her colleagues and family. Born in 1922 to a Jewish family in Germany, Lamfrom fled with her parents and sisters to Portland, Oregon in 1938, and worked her way through Reed College by working as a welder in wartime shipyards. Twenty years later, with a PhD and years of working on the renin protein system in blood, she began to study protein synthesis as the field of molecular biology was just starting to take off.
Unexpected scientific discoveries are usually made by people who are so fascinated by the focus of their research that they probe deeply enough to find and illuminate the hitherto unknown lurking within it. They don’t begin their work hoping for acclaim or awards, but immerse themselves in it for the sheer pleasure of knowledge and discovery. (In this sense, it’s very much like free and self-directed play in small children exploring the world around them, and is powered by the same intrinsic motivation to find out why and how things work.)