Leroy Hood: Discovery Science pg. 8
Hood is inexhaustible and stays perpetually warmed up and ready to speak on any topic, his gears seemingly stuck in drive. A fit man with an intense gaze, only his graying hair betrays his 64 years. His days often start early with a solitary run, a time when he says he does his best thinking. Younger colleagues marvel at his stamina, finding their own energy flagging under the duress of building the infrastructure of the center while maintaining their research.
Though he’s much more likely to pick up the sports page than the business section of the newspaper, Hood understands deeply how industry can serve his vision. The long-term plan, he says, is to launch small start-up companies that can develop the discoveries of institute scientists. Venture capitalists already have committed funding for a new building he calls the Accelerator, where the companies will be housed while they get a foothold.
“The business is just a means to an end for Lee,” says his colleague, George Lake, “a way to get the technology matured to the point that it benefits science. If people in medicine or science have something to do with a company, that is instantly a conflict of interest, something dirty. But the fact of the matter is, if you have something that will actually improve people’s well-being, if you don’t get financial backing it will take years longer to develop, and whatever benefit it has is lost to those people who suffered for those years.”
Hood is quick to give credit to the myriad talented scientists who have populated his large and busy labs over the years, and who are primarily responsible for the technological and methodological innovations.
“Students will often come up with solutions to problems that the mentor would neither have the time nor, in some cases, the specialized skills to solve,” he says. “One of the most important roles of a mentor is to create unbounded environments where people can move in any direction they want, and to give them a problem that is unbounded and will challenge them. Then, just let them do it.”
“His lab works very well for people who are independent and are able to find their own resources for learning,” says Jared Roach, a physician and research scientist at the Institute. “That said, Lee is really there for you when you need him.”
“He’s very open to people having done different things with their life—it’s one of his endearing qualities,” adds Lee Rowen, a senior research scientist at the Institute who has doctoral degrees in biochemistry and philosophy.
Since his days in medical school, when he volunteered to teach science to inner-city high school students, Hood also has been committed to K-12 science education. He and his wife currently are involved in an effort to revise the way science is taught in Seattle public schools.
The goal: to lift science education from the doldrums of rote memorization to a more active, inquiry-based method, one that sparks interest in young minds and instills a long-lasting habit of questioning. The program, supported by a National Science Foundation grant, includes summer workshops for teachers. “You just have to go and see kids getting turned on by hands-on, inquiry-based thinking to realize that this is the way you really want to teach things,” Hood says.