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Member Spotlight: Dr. William Campbell

By Abigail Kimball

For this month’s ASP Member Spotlight we had the privilege to speak with Dr. William Campbell. Dr. Campbell received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015 for his work on the novel drug ivermectin, which is used in the treatment of many important parasitic diseases such as onchocerciasis and elephantiasis. However, Dr. Campbell is much more than just a brilliant scientist, he is also a passionate history lover, a recently published author, and a very talented painter.

While working at Drew University he taught the course “History of Biomedical Science” and has extensively researched and written about the doomed Terra Nova Expedition. His memoir Catching the Worm was released this month, and recounts his lifelong work in parasitology as well as incredible life experiences. Dr. Campbell was kind enough to provide us with some pictures of his artwork, all of which highlight his love for parasites. Dr. Campbell is beloved by his students, peers, and community, so much so that a life-sized bronze statue of him is being sculpted and will be erected in his hometown of Ramelton in Donegal, Ireland.

Q: What qualities make a good scientist?

A: I am in a better position to speak from the point of view of “an OK scientist with luck.” Off-hand, I would suggest to the young scientist that the essential qualities – apart from a basic knowledge of the particular scientific field, would include ‘curiosity’ (don’t worry, it will be strengthened by research experience); and ‘industriousness’ (it will be easier if you have found stimulating work); and ‘honesty.’ Valuable, if not essential, is a sensitivity to the opportunities offered by luck and a willingness to take advantage of them.

Q: If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would it be?

A: It would be fun to think about possible dinner companions from whom one could learn great things; but today your question happens to make me think about dinner with people to whom I would like to say something. Specifically, I would like to speak to Vincent Van Gogh -- because I desperately want to tell him that he was a success. I want to tell him that his paintings opened people’s eyes and minds to a new experience of visual art; and (of less importance) that apparently there would no limit to what people would pay for them; and (sadly) that his paintings became so popular that to declare a liking for them became rather ’lame’ and was likely to be met with a shrug. I would also assure him that even today there are people who find that looking at stars on a dark night is literally (not idiomatically) awesome—an experience that can bring people to the brink of the transcendental. The artist himself, after all, had been compelled, on the night before his suicide, to go out and gaze at the starry sky in search of such an experience. It is excruciatingly painful to think that he never knew that he was, most profoundly, a success in a world in which he found torment. Before rising from the dinner table, I would say “If you happen to see Paul Cezanne, tell him that after his death many people actually paid good money for his paintings -- and became rich by selling them.” I think Paul C. really, really deserves to know that.

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