- NAME: Richard Axel
- OCCUPATION: Neurologist
- BIRTH DATE: July 02, 1946 (Age: 67)
- Did You Know?: While playing on the basketball team at Stuyvesant High School, Richard Axel played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the court. Jabbar scored 54 points and Axel scored two.
- EDUCATION: Stuyvesant High School, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
- Full Name: Richard Axel
- ZODIAC SIGN: Cancer
Best Known For
American neuroscientist Richard Axel is best known for his work on the olfactory system, exploring how the brain interprets smell.
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Born on July 2, 1948, in Brooklyn, New York, famed neuroscientist Richard Axel is best known for his work on the olfactory system, exploring how the brain interprets smell through the olfactory cells at the back of the nasal cavity. He and his partner, Linda B. Buck, discovered that there are nearly 1,000 genes that produce an equivalent number of olfactory receptors,
which play a major role in scent detection. Axel and Buck shared the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their important research of the olfactory system.
Neurologist Richard Axel was born on July 2, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish immigrant parents who relocated to the United States after Nazis invaded their homeland. Having been raised in a working class family, books and music weren't available to Axel as a child. He instead spent his time focused on extracurricular activities, such as baseball and basketball. His jobs throughout his youth varied, but none of them were academic. Axel worked as a messenger, a carpenter and a server, at ages 11, 12 and 13, respectively.
With Axel's priorities concerning athletics instead of academics during his youth, he was dismayed when his principal sent him to Stuyvesant High School instead of the local high school in Brooklyn—the school in Brooklyn had the best basketball team in the borough, while Stuyvesant was known as a school for intellectually exceptional boys. While Axel was originally against the idea, he engulfed himself in the world of arts of culture that he hadn't previously been exposed to.
Axel's interest in athletics persisted while attending Stuyvesant, and a moment on the team was engraved in his memory during this time. While playing against another high school, the opposing center confronted Axel on the court and said, "What are you going to do, Einstein?" That player was Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Following high school, Axel attended Columbia University, choosing to study literature. He developed a passion for science in the 1960s, when the structure and code for DNA had recently been uncovered. A young Axel worked as a research assistant during his time as an undergraduate, and he decided to further pursue his interest in biology by going to graduate school for genetics.
In order to avoid joining the military due to the draft, Axel had to forgo his plans of going to graduate school and instead enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. An unprepared student, Axel struggled while attending Johns Hopkins. He was only allowed to graduate under the pretense that he ensured the deans that he would never to practice medicine on living patients. He returned to his alma mater of Columbia as a pathology major and worked performing autopsies, keeping in line with his promise. After one year of studying pathology, he was asked by the chairman of the subject to never practice on dead patients either.
Axel finally began working in a lab on a molecular level as he joined the department of genetics at Columbia.
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