Group Leader, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Medical Research Council. Age: 36
The typical biologist’s desk is strewn with reprints and lab notebooks, maybe a coffee cup, perhaps a small model of a DNA molecule. Structural biologist Andrew Carter’s workspace has all these things, but a cluster of framed dog photographs stands out amid the clutter: his collection of corgi pictures. “Good science, good beer, and corgis are three of Andrew’s passions,” says his postdoctoral advisor, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), biologist Ron Vale. He teasingly parodies his advisee: “’When times get tough, all I have to do is to look at these pictures of corgis for release and genuflection.’”
Carter’s “good science,” structural biology, is a discipline that didn’t necessarily come easily to the young researcher. “When you’re taught structural biology as an undergrad, it seems impossible,” Carter says. “It was so mathematical I thought I would never be able to do it.” A friend’s successful experience convinced him that it was, in fact, possible, and he chose to pursue a career in the field for the thrill of solving the structure of a molecule that no one had ever seen before, he says. “I compare it to the early people that explored continents—like Lewis and Clark.” So in 1999, Carter set off to graduate school at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) in Cambridge, UK, to study protein structure, an intrepid explorer with his trusty corgi, Abigail, at his heel.