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Gilly, William F.
Gilly, William F.
Gilly, William F. and Maher, Susan
Corporate Author:
Stanford Historical Society
William Gilly is a biology professor at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station whose research has contributed to our basic understanding of electrical excitability in nerve and muscle cells in a wide variety of organisms ranging from brittle stars to mammals. In this interview, Gilly discusses the path his science career has taken, including measuring gas diffusion across membranes, patch clamping giant squid neurons, and retracing John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts’s expedition to the Sea of Cortez. Beyond his research, he explains how he has incorporated exploration and discovery into his courses and science outreach. Gilly begins the interview with his affinity for Uncle Wiggly, an aged but adventurous rabbit from a series of children’s stories, and describes his own independent forays into the natural surroundings of Allentown, Pennsylvania when he was a child. He explains his family’s technical background and how his interest in ham radio led him to pursue an electrical engineering degree at Princeton. Gilly details the independent undergraduate research project that landed him in a neurophysiology lab, shifted his focus to biology, and, despite inconclusive results, earned him an award from his engineering department. He describes his acceptance to the PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis and how, when his advisor died suddenly, a network of friends and acquaintances from Yale University, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, and the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories enabled him to complete his research and thesis in physiology and biophysics and to begin a postdoctoral fellowship in Clara Franzini-Armstrong’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania, studying the role of ion channels in electrical signaling in squid axons. This expertise, Gilly explains, resulted in his appointment at Stanford, working at Hopkins Marine Station where he could collect squid specimens directly from the bay. Citing his experiences both as a scientist and fisherman, he opines on the ways that the Monterey Bay has and has not recovered. After discussing the bureaucratic challenges of achieving tenure, he launches into stories about the classes he has taught, including a technical training course on patch clamping squid neurons, a holistic biology class that involved field research in Baja California Big Sur and the Salinas River, and the Steinbeck Summer Institutes program for primary educators. A central text to many of these courses is Steinbeck and Ricketts’s Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research, and Gilly discusses how he and several colleagues organized their own expedition based on Steinbeck and Ricketts’s sea voyage. He details preparations and sponsorship for the trip and mentions how the original expedition’s ship, the Western Flyer, is being restored for outreach and possible future trips. Gilly talks about his other outreach work, including donating giant squid to primary classrooms for his Squid4Kids program, trying to mount a critter-cam on a squid for National Geographic TV, and serving as a National Geographic Expert on their Lindblad cruises in the Sea of Cortez. He concludes the interview by discussing his current project helping to set up a community-run marine lab in Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur, Mexico and how it might be used for environmental research and education.
William F. Gilly, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, marine biology, marine biologists, Hopkins Marine Station, Monterey Bay, Humboldt squid, Sea of Cortez Expedition and Education Project, Squids4Kids, universities and colleges--faculty, universities and colleges--research, and holistic biology
February 22, 2016
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012