Ask MIT’s Hazel Sive, an expert in developmental biology and Professor of Biology, about her work in embryonic development, and her love for teaching immediately shines through. She’s just as likely to start talking to you about music. “Embryonic development has its own tempo—from the thumping rock beat of early cell division to something more like modern minimalism, where you have cells working together while still doing their own thing, making the music more melodious and complex. Finally, as nerves start working and sending impulses, it moves to something more syncopated and rhythmic.”
Sive has been teaching at MIT since 1991, and is currently Associate Dean of the School of Science and Member of the Whitehead Institute, where she runs her own lab. Her multidisciplinary work, combining genetics, molecular biology and brain imaging, is highly regarded worldwide for opening exciting new pathways in biomedical research. She has been a pioneer in the study of the vertebrate embryo, with a focus on the various signaling systems that determine how cells differentiate into specific organs.
As a child growing up in South Africa, Sive showed an early curiosity for the sciences, and credits her father as a major influence: “He was an inventor—an electrical engineer. I remember him working in his shop, designing switching devices or circuits that he would sell to the telephone company,” she recalls, “I was always welcome in his shop. For me, as a child, it was a wonderful place to explore. He allowed me to use absolutely anything, his band saw, his tools, anything,” she jokes.
Yet her love for the lush coastal landscape of South Africa, and “digging in the garden for all sorts of crawly, jumping things,” eventually led Sive into the life sciences. Her high school science teacher noticed Sive’s aptitude for science: “She was a very serious teacher. I think if she saw that you were interested, she paid extra attention to you. I remember how she once took me aside in lab and taught me how to properly use a burette. She said, ‘You’re going to study science in university someday, so you better learn to use this thing properly.’ That really meant a lot to me, that kind of attention.” Read more.