The elegant ribbon drawings that became standard depictions of proteins originated in the sketches of Jane S. Richardson, now a professor of biochemistry at Duke University. The schematics Jane and David Richardson created and refined continue to help biologists untangle protein structures—combinations of helices (corkscrew shapes) and strands gathered into sheets—and thus tie form with function.
Robert Kosara interviews Jane S. Richardson in American Scientist:
R. K. Your biography in a recent meeting program ended with the sentence, “She now has three honorary degrees to fill in for her lack of a Ph.D.” Can you tell us a bit about your background?
J. S. R. In high school,I was a very active amateur astronomer; later I majored in math, physics and astronomy in college. I switched to philosophy at some point, and went to graduate school at Harvard for a year. I even got an M.A. in teaching. Eventually, I ended up joining the lab at MIT where my husband was getting his degree. This was in the '60s, right after the structures of two important proteins, hemoglobin and myoglobin, had been published. It was an exciting new field, and I was fascinated by these complicated structures. I treated them as another kind of natural history, similar to astronomy. The philosophy training turned out to be quite useful; it makes you skeptical about everything. I later joined Duke University, originally in the anatomy department and later in biochemistry with my husband.