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Francis S. Collins

Francis S. Collins (1950– )

“I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith.”
–Francis S. Collins

National Medal of Science recipient in 2008 “for his visionary contributions to the fields of genetics and genomics through the work of his own laboratory and his leadership of multiple international genomics initiatives, including the Human Genome Project.”

Francis S. Collins grew up on a small farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, where he served as a farmhand and was home-schooled until the sixth grade. Collins’ father was a musician, and the farm became the center of a thriving arts community, visited by the likes of Bob Dylan, who celebrated his 18th birthday at the farmhouse. Collins himself has a number of unconventional hobbies. He plays in a folk-rock band, called “The Directors,” that is comprised of a group of scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and can be seen driving his red Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the streets of Bethesda, Md.

Collins received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia, and earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University in 1974, before switching to the field of biochemistry and completing his medical degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The “chromosome jumping” method he honed as a young researcher was used to speed up the process of identifying genes for disorders like cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.

In 1993, Collins became the director of what is now the National Human Genome Research Institute, overseeing the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium. He was appointed director of NIH by President Barack Obama in 2009. Throughout Collins’ tenure as NIH director, he has been an advocate for personalized medicine and the funding of embryonic stem cell research. Collins received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2007.

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