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3 Science and Nature % > It is August 1968, the Tokyo Prince Hotel, the International Congress of Genetics. I am attending my first international meeting. I am a young scientist with a one-year-old Ph.D., pretty full of myself, figuring that my paper, "Introgression and the Maintenance of Karyotypic Integrity," is sure to be a hit. But beyond my little part in the proceedings, I am excited because I know I will see nearly all of the major figures in the world of genetics at the congress, an event held only once every four years. I am excited, not only because it is my first trip to the Orient, or because I will give a paper, or because I will see many famous people in my field, but also because on the program are the names of many geneticists from the Soviet Union. Most are old names known from the literature, scientists the older American geneticists especially will be glad to see because, since the years of Stalin's great purge of Soviet geneticists, the fate of many has been unknown. Some have survived the purge only by turning away from research and publishing on genetics during the last two or three decades, to research and writing concerned more with developmental microbiology or with physiology. 28 Becoming Native to This Place In my very small hotel room at the Tokyo Prince the night of my arrival, after registration, 1 open the Conference Program and circle the times and rooms where the Soviet papers will be given. 1 suspect that part of my motivation to attend some of the sessions by these creatures from behind the Iron Curtain is less interest in what they have to say than curiosity about this strange and relatively isolated breed of men. If my memory is correct, more than half the papers by the Soviets were canceled. We learned that, at the last minute, they had been detained, many of them at the airport. Moreover , when one did see the Soviet scientists who were on hand, they were always in a group. I never once saw one alone or talking alone with another scientist. To call it eerie does not adequately describe my feeling. But one moment at that meeting stood out from all the rest. To appreciate how poignant it was requires some background . The late Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of America's greatest geneticists, was at the congress. He was a truly great man who had written numerous papers and books on genetics , books and papers that have contributed greatly to our modern understanding, especially in the area of population genetics. Professor Dobzhansky was born in Russia. He had left the Soviet Union before the great purge and had come to America as a young scientist for further training. For three decades while living in New York he heard of the awful and sad events in his home country. Many of those who presumably died in the labor camps were his friends. Science and Nature Back to the Tokyo Prince Hotel. It was early in the week, the meetings were getting under way and I was standing in the lobby waiting for an elevator. A small group of Soviet scientists were also standing and waiting. They were all older men. Not one would, I guessed, be under fifty-five or sixty. Some looked to be seventy or older. I managed to catch the eye of a few of them. They nodded to me but quickly turned away, and we all stood in silence, looking up to see where the elevator was on its trip down. It finally arrived. The bell rang. The doors opened and ready to step off was Professor Dobzhansky, face to face and not five feet away from his former countrymen . They stared. He searched their faces. I suspect some of them he had never known, but some he had known were now thirty-five (or more) years older than when, as an aspiring young Soviet scientist himself, he had last seen them. It was a moment when time seemed to stop. Within seconds a wave of emotion swept over the small gathering as one elderly Soviet scientist after another embraced their old colleague. I know nothing of what was said, it was all in Russian, of course. But I do remember, after the bear hugs ended, seeing Professor Dobzhansky put his hand to his right eye, and the flick of his thumb there. Not wanting to be caught staring...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813146478
Related ISBN
9780813118468
MARC Record
OCLC
864899638
Pages
136
Launched on MUSE
2014-03-25
Language
English
Open Access
No
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