Nancy Hopkins



Nancy Hopkins is a molecular biologist and the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a junior at Radcliffe College, considering possible career paths in architecture or medicine, she attended a lecture by James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. This inspired her to become a research scientist.

While earning a Ph.D. at Harvard, she worked to isolate the lambda phage repressor, examining the DNA of operator mutants and how various mutations affected a repressor protein’s ability to bind to DNA. She became interested in probing the genetics of animal tumor viruses, an interest she pursued as a postdoctoral researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, working with her mentor, James Watson. In 1973, Dr. Hopkins was invited to join the faculty of MIT at the newly constructed Center for Cancer Research.

After arriving at MIT, Dr. Hopkins pursued two major research areas. Initially, she changed her research focus from DNA tumor viruses to RNA tumor viruses, which were then considered to be a likely cause for many cancers in humans. After several years of research and significant contributions in this field, Dr. Hopkins began studying developmental genetics in zebrafish. Her laboratory developed the first successful method for making insertional muta- genesis work in a vertebrate model, which enabled her team to identify genes essential for zebrafish development, with implications for better understanding development in other species.

Her work outside the lab has attracted national interest as well. In the 1990s, she initiated an examination of possible gender bias against women scientists. A summary of the study was published in 1999. In 2000, she was named co-chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT, along with then-Provost Robert A. Brown.

She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.