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Top scientist brings education to life at NC

UPDATED: Tue., April 23, 2013, 12:10 a.m.

Instruments to map human genome among Hood’s accomplishments

Renowned scientist Dr. Leroy Hood spoke casually with North Central High School students about mitochondrial DNA and planning for a future in science as he toured the school’s Institute of Science and Technology where students are immersed in molecular biology.

“A lot of this science didn’t exist when I was a kid,” said Hood, 81. “I’ve spent most of my career working with kids. It’s nice to connect.”

After the brief sit-down with a handful of students, Hood made a presentation to 500 freshmen and sophomores about his distinguished career.

Among his accomplishments: Hood helped develop four instruments that have led to successful human genome mapping. He’s president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. He’s helped establish more than 14 biotechnology companies. He taught at CalTech for more than two decades and established University of Washington’s Department of Molecular Biotechnology in 1992. In 2013, Hood received the National Medal of Science.

His goal was to inspire students to become scientists.

Hood, also the keynote speaker for Spokane Scholars Foundation’s annual banquet on Monday, is a pioneer in the systems approach to biology and medicine.

Science teacher Randy James, the North Central teacher who created the Institute of Science and Technology that combines traditional science courses with a multiyear immersion in molecular biology, has followed Hood’s work.

“He’s on that fringe,” James said. “He’s always pushing the envelope on what we can learn. He’s not complacent with the equipment we have.”

As for the students attending Hood’s presentation, “Most of these kids are science types, this is like a rock concert for them,” said Steve Fisk, a North Central assistant principal.

Hood believes K-12’s most important science program objective needs to be creating minds that are “thoughtful, informed and capable of inquiry based thinking.” As part of that mission, Hood created the Center for Inquiry Science within ISB, which provides professional development programs for K-12 science teachers.

The freshmen and sophomores who filled North Central’s auditorium were near silent as he told them of his accomplishments and spoke of the booming future in science.

“I think this is the most exciting time in science in my career,” he said. Hood also offered some advice for aspiring scientists: “If you are interested in science, get a cross-disciplinary background. Always think outside the box.”

Hood received a standing ovation when his speech concluded.

“Now I know what a rock star feels like,” he said.

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