Biologist David Page '78 Dedicates Life's Work to Understanding the Y Chromosome

David Page '78

David Page '78

The Scientist: Why, Oh Y?

After his first year of medical school, David Page ['78] spent the summer working in Ray White’s lab at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “My project, using the technology of 1979, was to work toward and ultimately construct a genetic linkage map of the human genome,” he recalls. It would take many people many years to complete the task, but what Page found that summer would ultimately drive his entire research career. 

Page grew up amid farmland on the outskirts of Pennsylvania Dutch country. He loved nature, but he was never really exposed to any scientific research. That all changed when he became the first member of his family to attend college. Swarthmore College was only 90 miles away, but “it was a completely different world,” Page says. He became enthralled with the life of academics, and of scientists in particular. “I came to realize that there were people who spent their time thinking about big ideas and how things worked.” Early in his freshman year, cell biologist Bob Savage drove him to nearby Haverford College for a seminar on the chemical origins of life. “It wasn’t that I was so taken by the subject matter. . . . Just this notion of people traveling around with ideas to share was quite intoxicating for me.”

After his junior year, Page spent the summer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), working on the structure of histones in the basement lab of the late biochemist Robert Simpson ['59], a Swarthmore alum. At night, he bunked in the basement of Simpson’s house. “Talk about an immersion experience in the life of a scientist,” Page says. “I basically became a member of the family for a year.” Page enjoyed the experience so much that he enrolled in only a single seminar the following semester at Swarthmore. He continued living in Simpson’s basement and working at the NIH—and took the train up to Pennsylvania once a week for his class.

Read the full article at The Scientist.

Page graduated from Swarthmore with highest honors in chemistry, which he has described as his "proudest achievement." He is the director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT. Listen to his 2011 campus lecture, "Rethinking the Rotting Y Chromosome."