MAKERS Profile

Elizabeth Blackburn

Nobel-Prize Winning Biologist

In this video

Elizabeth Blackburn on being a woman in science and the groundbreaking research that led to winning a Nobel Prize.
Elizabeth Blackburn is a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist and a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Her research is focused on understanding a critical structure at the end of chromosomes, called the telomere, which protects DNA during the cell division. These small cell structures are thought to provide important clues for fighting chronic diseases and slowing down the aging process. Blackburn was born on the Australian island of Tasmania and immigrated to the United States in 1975 in order to conduct her postdoctoral work at Yale University. She joined the faculty at University of California Berkeley in 1978, before moving across the bay to UCSF in 1990. Her breakthrough discovery, for which she was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, concerned the process by which cells replicate. Specifically, Blackburn co-discovered an enzyme called “telomerase”, which rebuilds telomeres following cell division. Scientists knew that telomeres broke down during cell division, but until Blackburn’s discovery they didn’t know how they were repaired afterward. In the years since her discovery, Blackburn has teamed up with doctors from broad range of fields in order to learn more about the restorative potential of telomerase. My research is now trying to understand how we can anticipate and alleviate some of the processes…that are leading to increased diseases of aging,” she says.

More From Elizabeth

A Shift That Favors Women
Blackburn thinks the shift toward more collaborative research could produce an increase in female scientists.

Who Needs Perfection?
Blackburn shares some of the things she had to let go of worrying about to achieve some balance in her life and work.

The Long View on Balance
Blackburn advises women not to calculate their balance between career and family on a daily basis, but over time.

Learning to Juggle and Prioritize
Blackburn on how she accepted that balancing a career and a family would be tough.

Opting Out
Blackburn discusses why there are so few women scientists at the top of their profession and what could be done to improve their numbers.

The Only Woman Once Again
When Blackburn was promoted to department chair in 1993, she was once again the only woman in the room.

All Upside
Blackburn notes that even though the women's movement has produced new challenges, life is better for women since It occurred.

Just as Free as the Men
As a young female scienists, Blackburn felt as free as the men, and noticed some differiential in treatment.

Providing a Confidence Boost
Blackburn has noticed that female scientists sometimes need a boost of confidence.

Healthy Aging
Blackburn explains how her research relates to aging in good health.

Confidence at an Early Age
Blackburn explains how her mother's support of her endeavors, no matter how small, built her confidence.