Eric Lander: The great amplifier  pg. 3

“We’re playing a great amplifier… We’re trying to empower a generation of remarkable scientists who really want to take on the important problems in disease.”

Productive collisions

Empowering remarkable people has been a hallmark of Lander’s life, at least as far back as high school.

Lander and his brother—now chair of the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology at the University of California, Irvine—grew up in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn.

Their parents were lawyers, but their father, Harold, became disabled from multiple sclerosis and died when Eric was 11 and Arthur was 10. Pitching in to help with housework and home repairs, the boys early on developed a strong sense of initiative.

Eric Lander (third from left) poses with other members of the Stuyvesant High School math team in 1974.  To Lander's right are Jesse Deutsch and teacher Irene Finkel; to his left are Francis Barany, Kelly Pan and Paul Zeitz.
Photo by James Hamilton
Their mother, Rhoda, who died two years ago, told the Boston Globe Magazine in 1999 that she was mystified by her sons’ achievements. “They did their thing, and then I paid the bills,” she said.

Pursuing an early interest in mathematics, Eric enrolled in Stuyvesant, one of New York’s premier math and science high schools, and became a leader of Stuyvesant’s celebrated math team.

At age 17, he won the Westinghouse Science Talent Search prize for a paper on “quasi-perfect” numbers, but he was much more than a math whiz, recalls former math teammate Kelly Pan.

“Eric has what is probably unusual in the field of math, a very outgoing personality,” says Pan, who went on to earn an MBA and who now runs an investment management firm, Pantheon Capital Management, in Manhattan. “He reaches out to people and is always very willing to share what he knows.”

In 1974, Lander enrolled at Princeton University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in math with highest honors. He also met his future wife, Lori, in a constitutional law class their sophomore year. Married since 1981, the Landers have three children: Jessica, 18, Daniel, 15, and David, 11.

Lander describes his life as if he were an atomic particle, bouncing randomly into key people. Not knowing what he wanted to do after earning his doctorate in mathematics from Oxford, he went to Boston, he says, “because the probability of productive collisions was higher.”

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