Biography

2010

 

Steven Rose was born in 1938 to an orthodox Jewish family in north-west London. He went to Haberdashers’ Askes, a direct grant school, which even in the 1950s still operated a numerus clausus to limit the number of Jewish students.  He won a major open scholarship to Kings College Cambridge where he gained a double first degree in biochemistry. In order to research brain processes, he chose the Institute of Psychiatry in London for his graduate studies, being awarded a PhD in 1962. From 1962-4 he held a Guinness fellowship at New College and a Beit Fellowship in the biochemistry department in Oxford working with the Nobelist Sir Hans Krebs. This was followed by a National Institutes of Health fellowship at the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome with Nobelist Ernst Chain. After a period on the Medical Research Council staff at Imperial College London, in 1969 he was one of the first appointments to the newly formed Open University, as Professor of Biology. There he was responsible for creating an entirely new department, a biology syllabus for distance learning, and a research environment within which his own Brain and Behaviour Research Group could flourish. The biology courses, combining written texts, television and radio material, home experimental kits and summer schools, rapidly proved to be the most popular of all in the science faculty, several attracting up to 1500 students each year. Particularly successful were innovative courses in Biology Brain and Behaviour, Genetics, and Health and Disease, all of which he chaired, involving collaborations with colleagues from several disciplines. Many of the course books for these found themselves in demand in other universities too,


Over his thirty years as Chair of the Biology Department, now called Life Sciences, he maintained an active research career, focussing on the neurobiology of learning and memory. His favoured research subject is the day-old chick, which is quick to learn and remember a variety of tasks. Working with the chick, he and his colleagues have been able to identify the cascade of molecular processes that occurs during and following training the chick on a simple task, and which results in ‘encoding’ the memory for the task in new patterns of connectivity between nerve cells in the brain. He is author or co-author of some 300 hundred research papers resulting from this research. Most recently this seemingly basic research programme into the molecular basis of memory formation has resulted in a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease. He and his long-term research colleague Dr Radmila Mileusnic are the named inventors for a patent, held by the Open University, for this therapy, which won a Medical Innovations award in 2005. Steven Rose’s laboratory has been funded by grants from the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Royal Society, Wellcome Trust and British Council amongst others and it has attracted visitors, graduate and post-doctoral students from many European countries, Australia, China and the US.


He retired from the headship of the department in 1999 to concentrate on research, and was appointed Emeritus Professor by the Open University. He has also held visiting appointments at the Australian National University, Harvard, the University of Minnesota, the San Francisco Exploratorium, the Academica Sinica in Beijing and most recently at University College, London. For three years he was Joint Professor of Physick (medicine) at Gresham College, London with his partner, the feminist sociologist Hilary Rose.


Throughout his career he has been concerned with the broader aspects of his discipline and in communicating science to a wider public. In the 1960s, with a small group of colleagues including the late Professor Pat Wall, he founded the Brain Research Association, now the British Neuroscience Association, which helped shape the newborn field of neuroscience. His first book The Chemistry of Life, published in 1966, sold some hundred thousand copies and became a foundation text for Open University students. The Conscious Brain was particularly successful in the US. The Making of Memory won the 1993 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize, He has received a variety of medals and international awards, most recently the Biochemical Society’s special medal for science communication, the Edinburgh Medal and the silver medal of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts.  For five years he was a regular panel member of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. In 2003 BBC 4 transmitted a profile of him by the distinguished film-maker Mike Dibb. He is a regular broadcaster and reviewer/essayist for national newspapers and journals.


Throughout his career, and in collaboration with Hilary Rose, he has been actively concerned with the ethical, legal and social implications of developments in science, especially in the fields of genetics and neuroscience. These social and political concerns spring from his earliest political memories, in the 1940s, of standing behind a street corner platform in east London on which his ex-serviceman father was speaking against Mosley’s fascists. During the 1960s, like many others, he campaigned against the Vietnam war and the US uses of chemical weapons, and edited a book on chemical and biological warfare. In1969 he co-wrote with Hilary Rose the pioneering and best-selling penguin Science and Society, which was extensively used in the new science studies programmes developing in the UK. In 1969 Hilary and Steven helped found the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science and have continued to develop their critique of science in a number of co-edited books ever since. In 2002 they initiated a call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel whilst that country was in breach of the EU Charter of Human Rights and until a just peace was negotiated with the Palestinians. This call led to the creation of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine.


Steven and Hilary have two sons and live in London.