Some family business

Readers of this blog will know that I am not the only scientist in the Elliott family, nor the best one.

My father Gerald, who pops up occasionally on this blog in the comments, or even from my mentioning him in the posts, (example here) published his first scientific paper back in 1957.

He emailed me earlier today to say that what he calls “my last experimental paper” – the data is a few years old, but has only just been written up – has just been accepted for publication in Cell Calcium.

As I told him, I reckon that publishing experimental science in seven different decades* is quite an achievement.

Congrats, mate.



*His last paper prior to this, an x-ray and neutron diffraction one from 2007, is here, with more listed here. And while I’m at it, I should also plug (again!) this historical account of some of his muscle work in the early 60s, which has some great pictures – including one of a 3 or 4 year old me.


About Austin

Middle-aged grouchy white male. Hair greying but hasn't all fallen out yet. Spreading waistline ill-concealed by baggy jumper.Semi-extinguished physiology researcher turned teacher. Known for never shutting up. Father of two children (aged 6 and 2) who try to out-talk him. Some would call that Karmic Revenge.
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10 Responses to Some family business

  1. Steve Caplan says:

    Congratulations to your father on an amazing career!

    I’ve often wondered if it feels threatening to grow up knowing it’s a tough act to follow someone with such a successful career.

    BTW-great “young Austin” photo!

  2. Congrats to Dr. Aust, Sr. – and nice laboratory-visiting gear Austin
    joyous post

  3. That’s really inspiring! You should get him to guest-post. 😉

  4. cromercrox says:

    Remarkable, and much kudos to DrAust Snr. I wonder – I am a child of two non-scientists. Does being the offspring of a successful scientist make you more or less likely to go into the family business, do you think?

  5. ricardipus says:

    Well done Gerald. 🙂

    My own father has probably published in nearly every decade of his career, and since he retired as well, although not prolifically (and I may be wrong, since I’m far too lazy to go and look up his literature).

    However, I would venture to say that since he has over the past 30 years or so become more and more a theoretical physicist than an experimental one, it’s been easier for him than for your father. Mine hasn’t needed to do experimental work for many years… 😉

  6. Thanks all.

    @Jenny: will ask him if he’s got anything he’s like to write a post about.

    @ricardipus: He does still have one major unpublished thing in the files, which is a theoretical model, slightly bearing out what you say. I’ve told him it’s probably better not to try and aim for an eighth decade with that one.

    @Henry, @ Steve:

    I think being the child of someone in any profession (including science) definitely makes you more likely to go into the business, simply because once you are actually thinking about things to do (after University?), you know it exists as a career path – even if, as in my case, you go through your childhood with no precise idea what your father does all day. BTW, my mum was a history teacher when I was growing up, and latterly ran a contemporary arts gallery and was a semi-pro portrait photographer.

    Other things, though, are also influential – what you do at Univ, how well you do, what jobs you blunder into. Having done a science-arts subject mix (including A level German) right up to the end of school, I always imagined I would do something sort of “in between” science and arts for a living – if I thought about it at all, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

    I think my dad’s influence can be seen in my doing A level Maths ( which he told me “will always be useful”!), and then doing a PhD. In terms of me having worked in science since, that was largely an accident based on my having fortuitously got a tenure-track job absurdly young. Had I had to spend years as a postdoc, I really can’t imagine me ever becoming an academic, as I never had the attention span and perseverance for years of bench work. I strongly suspect I would have found my way into some kind of scientific editing. But if my dad hadn’t been a scientist, I reckon I would likely have ended up working in the media – talking being my primary gift, and all that.

    Never really had what Steve terms the “tough act to follow” feeling – first off, we never worked in the same topic area, at least beyond my PhD. And Gerald has always been kind of a maverick figure, especially in his main original area of muscle research, so one didn’t always perceive his career as success – which shows, I think, that success is a relative term. There are other differences between us, too, that mean I’ve never felt he and I were following the same path, even if we are in the same business. But that’s probably enough for now.

  7. Stuart says:

    Austin – Congrats to your Dad!! Probably see you at Oxford this summer! Stuart

    • Austin says:

      Cheers mate. Will definitely be in Oxford, and imagine Gerald will be around too.

      PS Just heard last week that my April 1st chess hoax post snared a couple of well-known physiologists at a Scottish University. If you email me I’ll tell you who!

  8. [Editorial note from Austin: Gerald emailed me this at the weekend as a comment – finally reached a pause in my essay marking, so have tidied it up and added some links]

    Thanks to all who have commented for your congratulations. May I say in turn that Austin has clarity of scientific vision and a gift for clear exposition that I envy. I’m sure that his students appreciate it, and I only wish that this appreciation could be shared with the people who award brownie points in academia.

    About the work in the Cell Calcium article: the experimental work coincided with my retirement from the Open University in the late 1990s. The work is part of a series measuring net charges on muscle proteins within the muscle sarcomeres using our Donnan potential electrophysiological technique. It tries specifically to look at the giant muscle protein titin.

    The OU was keen to take the opportunity of my retirement to close down its Oxford Research Unit (where the work was done) because it was not on the main OU (Bletchley) campus. In the dying days of the Unit my PhD student Sue Coomber and I attempted to do the most logical follow-up experiments. However, Sue, who had a family to support, left research to become a teacher, the Unit closed in the early 2000s, and we ran out of time. I kept on working part-time in Cardiff for the following nine years, commuting from Oxford, but that was related to our corneal and eye-lens programme (with Prof Keith Meek, previously a senior OU colleague). Anyway, the muscle apparatus was mothballed, and the muscle work had to be left unfinished. We finally decided to publish the muscle data we had, hopefully as a signpost to future workers – hence the Cell Calcium paper.

    We did, by the way, preserve all the experimental apparatus, some of which is now stored in Copenhagen with Professor Else Bartels and some in Manchester with Austin. I’m hoping that the new publication will persuade some one carry the work forward. [To Austin: you can take that as a hint!]

    While writing, I should say that after writing the ‘Living history’ piece in Physiology News that Austin linked to, I was contacted by my distinguished colleague Hugh Huxley of Brandeis University. He corrected me on something I had written about Max Perutz, Nobel Laureate and another distinguished colleague. I wrote a letter to Physiology News to put the matter straight, which you can read here. This also gives also me an excuse to link to a book review I wrote of Georgina Ferry’s splendid biography of Max himself, who was one of my scientific heroes.

    Gerald Elliott 14th May 2011

  9. Pingback: More family business | Not ranting – honestly

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