The DNALC's multi-disciplinary staff has experience in elementary, secondary, and collegiate instruction; biochemistry and molecular biological research; computer programming; design, photography, fine arts, and interior design; science journalism; public relations and development; and opinion research.

  • Administration
  • BioMedia
  • Education & Instruction

Dave Micklos

Executive Director

Nothing in my precollege schooling in a leafy suburb of Baltimore would have predicted that I would end up at a high-powered research institute. I sat in the back row of biology class, where I regularly played cards. I often slept during my chemistry class because I stayed up late to watch the Dick Cavett Show. However, I got turned on to biology in a sophomore class at Frostburg State College, when I did a great dissection of the inner ear of a sand shark and debated the professor on her labeling of the parts on a practical. I also had an assistantship to help out on research on sea squirts and got hooked on bird watching. After completing an undergraduate degree in biology, I did service in the Peace Corps as a secondary science teacher at a government boarding school on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. I returned to get a graduate degree in journalism, but my dream of becoming a science writer was dashed by a sharp downturn in science reporting in daily newspapers.

After a brief stint in opinion research at a Manhattan PR agency, I was hired by Jim Watson in 1982 to start the Laboratory’s development and public affairs efforts.  However, when Jim was away on sabbatical in 1984, I became increasingly interested in education. Future Nobel Laureate, Rich Roberts, gave me a little space in his lab, where I worked with postdoc Greg Freyer to develop a set of simple experiments that would allow students to get their hands dirty with recombinant DNA. By the time Jim returned from England, I had managed to raise $60,000 to equip six local school districts for DNA experimentation and to train the first group of Long Island teachers.

By summer 1986, we had a spiffy “Vector Van,” loaded to the ceiling with pipets, centrifuges, and water baths, which we took on a nationwide training tour that ended at the University of California at Davis. In 1987 we won our first grant from the National Science Foundation, acquired a second Vector Van, and conducted workshops at 14 locations around the country. By this time it was clear to Jim that our DNA education program had to conform to his dictum of organizational evolution: “You get bigger, or you get smaller.” So he determined that we should take over an abandoned elementary school on Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor Village. The Laboratory trustees were worried that a “DNA museum” might be a little frumpish, and perhaps overly focused on Jim, so we came up with “DNA Learning Center.”

Of course, none of us really understood what a DNA Learning Center (DNALC) might entail, and we only had about half of the first year’s lease funds in hand. Nevertheless, by spring 1988 we conducted the first lab field trips during which students dissected viral DNA or inserted an antibiotic resistance gene into bacteria. Thus, we became the first place in the world to routinely do DNA manipulation experiments with precollege students. Since that time, more than 400,000 students have performed these and other experiments at the DNALC without mishap, proving the relative safety of DNA methods.

Now, I spend most of my time writing grants and looking after the DNALC’s $4 million annual budget and staff of 25. I devote a lot of energy to developing computer infrastructures that can allow large numbers of students to work independently with biological data. The DNALC has thrived and evolved for 30 years, so I suppose it will survive another 30.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
CSHL HomeAbout CSHLResearchEducationPublic EventsNewsstandPartner With UsGiving