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Raymond Appleyard

International official and first Executive Secretary


Had Raymond Appleyard deliberately set out to prepare himself for the role of EMBO’s first Executive Secretary, he could not have done a better job. Having participated in the formative years of molecular biology, he joined first the United Nations and then the European Commission in senior administrative roles. ‘I had a bit of physics, a bit of biology, a bit of governmental - I had it all,’ he says now.


As a young man with a Cambridge physics degree under his belt, he immediately began to try to ‘shift into biology,’ convinced that a successful career in science would depend on competence in more than one discipline. The shift took him to the United States, where he spent two years in biophysics at Yale. Thanks to a Rockefeller fellowship, he then joined the laboratory of Max Delbrück at Caltech, where he worked with the Swiss molecular biologist Jean Weigle on the interactions of lambda phage with its bacterial host. ‘This was the start, because this was real proper biology,’ says Appleyard. He presented his findings at the historic 1953 Cold Spring Harbor symposium, where Watson and Crick first spoke in public on the double helix. Twelve of those present would go on to win Nobel prizes.


By this time Appleyard had moved to the Chalk River Laboratories, a research institute of the Canadian atomic energy authority. In 1956 the United Nations convened the first meeting of its Scientific Committee on the effects of atomic radiation [UNSCEAR]. ‘They sent [as Canadian representative] a senior public health man [Ernest Watkinson], accompanied by somebody much younger who knew a bit about radiation and biology and physics,’ says Appleyard. ‘So I went and we had a great time.’ He became secretary to the Committee, and spent the next four years in New York. ‘The UN was wonderful,’ he says. ‘So having moved from physics to biology, I found myself moving into the semi-governmental.’


Appleyard returned to Europe in 1960 to lead the biological research and training activities of Euratom. He took on the administration of EMBO concurrently from 1965 until 1973. With Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC), he joined the top brass at the European Commission as Director General, Scientific and Technical Information and Information Management. In that role he was able to oversee another revolution, helping to harmonise data networks across Europe as the age of the internet dawned.


Appleyard has retired to East Sussex, where he lives with his wife Joan, also a trained scientist. Asked if he saw his move to administration as a step down from science, he replies ‘At the time I regarded it as a step down. Today I don't know. Today I would say the administration actually needs people who have a bit of experience of working at the laboratory bench… I take great pride in EMBO, I have to admit.’


Georgina Ferry Source: EMBO in perspective: A half century in the life sciences.


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