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Bruce Alberts

Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco

Bruce Alberts is an American biochemist best known for having served as president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) from 1993 to 2005.

Alberts developed an early interest in science, reading about chemistry and conducting experiments while growing up near Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard College in 1960 and received a doctorate in biophysics from Harvard University in 1965. Alberts accepted a position teaching life sciences at Princeton University in 1966. He moved to the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco in 1976. There Alberts investigated the role of certain proteins in chromosomal replication and served as department chairman (1985–90).

Alberts was elected to the NAS in 1981. He became a councillor on the board of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1984 and in 1988 became chairman of the Commission on Life Sciences of the National Research Council (NRC). Alberts resigned both positions after succeeding American geophysicist Frank Press as president of the NAS in 1993. Alberts’s major concern as president of the NAS was running the NRC, which prepared hundreds of scientific, medical, and technical reports each year under contract from the government and private sources. He also oversaw the completion of a number of public outreach programs, including the opening of the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 in Washington, D.C.

Alberts was an advocate of improving science education in primary and secondary schools. In 1987 he established the Science & Health Education Partnership (SEP), a cooperative effort between the University of California at San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District aimed at improving science instruction in elementary schools. He influenced national efforts to address scientific literacy by serving on the advisory board of the National Science Resources Center (1990–93), a joint project of the NAS and the Smithsonian Institution. While president of NAS, Alberts was integral in the formulation and release in 1996 of the final National Science Education Standards. He ensured that the standards had been reviewed by not only members of the Academy, but other members of the scientific and educational communities as well. The recommendations contained in the standards were adopted by most states in constructing their own science curricula.

Alberts was cochair of the InterAcademy Council (2000–09), a body composed of the presidents of many major scientific organizations from around the world. The council advised both government bodies and private companies on issues related to science. Alberts resigned as NAS president in 2005, having served for two terms. He then returned to teaching at the University of California. He was president of the American Society of Cell Biology in 2007. In 2008 he became editor-in-chief of the journal Science. Alberts also cowrote Molecular Biology of the Cell (1983; 5th ed., 2008) and Essential Cell Biology (1998; 3rd ed., 2009), both widely used textbooks.

Related Forums

Forum 20:

Rescuing Biomedical Research: The Path Ahead

Bruce Alberts

Held March 6, 2015

Includes video