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Blue Skies and Bench Space: Adventures in Cancer Research

Subject Area(s):  General Interest TitlesCancer BiologyHistory of Science

By Kathleen Weston, Cancer Research UK London Research Institute

© 2014 • 336 pp., illus., glossary, index
Hardcover •
ISBN  978-1-621820-77-2

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CRUK London Research Institute and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, freely provide the content of this book online in HTML and PDF format. The online web version also contains additional notes and enhanced features provided by the author, Kathy Weston. A print version of the book is also available for purchase (add to cart above). Access book chapter PDFs or the whole book PDF by visiting the book's web site All royalties from the sale of the print book go towards ongoing research funded by Cancer Research UK.

  •     Description    
  •     Contents    
  •     Reviews    


What happens when a cancer research institute's only remit is to be the best it can be? For more than 100 years, one laboratory in London has operated on just that premise. With a generous budget, inspired leadership, and a stable of scientific thoroughbreds, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories produced some of the 20th century's most exciting advances in molecular biology. In its 21st century incarnation, as the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, it continues to inspire a new generation of researchers.

In this book, written with the assistance of the past and present inhabitants of the London Research Institute, Kathy Weston tells the inside story of the lab's greatest voyages into the scientific unknown, revealing the personalities behind the dry passive voice of the scientific paper. Science is an art, a vocation, a complicated landscape of data in which, just sometimes, the trained and alert eye can detect a glint of gold. In these pages, the gold is present, but equally to be treasured are the all-too-human scientists stumbling towards its seductive glimmer.


1 Beginnings
2 DNA Tumour Viruses and the Fabulous Fifth Floor
3 Birth of a Superhero
4 Country Life: Repair and Replication
5 Brake Failure
6 Divide and Rule
7 Death and Glory
8 Walk This Way
9 The Hedgehog Three


review:  “Kathy Weston has written a book about key areas of modern biology that is both entertaining and informative. Her portraits of the key scientists at the then ICRF at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, who made some of the seminal discoveries she describes, bring them to life as interesting and often entertaining people, far from the usual stereotype of the single track scientist sitting at his bench. This is a book that can be enjoyed by all, whether or not a scientist.”
      —Sir Walter Bodmer, Cancer & Immunogenetics Laboratory, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine

review:  “It brings back a lot of good memories, gives a vivid description of that beehive of science, and is very well written, with lots of endearing Englishisms.”
      —Harold Varmus, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1989; ICRF sabbatical visitor 1978-1979