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Elizabeth Helen Blackburn

Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women logo
Elizabeth Helen Blackburn

Awarded for service to Science

Born: 26 November 1948

Entered on roll: 2008


Elizabeth Blackburn was born in Hobart, the second of seven children. The family moved to Launceston, where Elizabeth attended Broadland House from 1953 to 1964, where she was an outstanding student. Elizabeth developed a love of science at an early age and gained her Bachelor of Science in 1970 and her Master of Science in 1972 from the University of Melbourne.

Elizabeth went on to complete her Ph.D in molecular biology at the University of Cambridge in 1975 and completed her postdoctoral study in molecular and cellular biology at Yale University from 1975 to 1977. In 1978, Elizabeth joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Molecular Biology. In 1990, she moved to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, where she served as Department Chair from 1993 to 1999.

Elizabeth’s career has been outstanding by any standards. She is a leader in the area of telomere and telomerase research, particularly as the discoverer of telomerase, which has a role in cancer and the ageing of cells. In 2006, Elizabeth and her co-researchers won the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in recognition of this work.

In her long and illustrious career Elizabeth has received many prestigious awards and has been honoured by her peers. These awards have included, among others: Eli Lilly Research Award for Microbiology and Immunology (1988), the National Academy of Science Award in Molecular Biology (1990), an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Yale University (1991), the Australia Prize (1998), the Harvey Prize (1999), the Keio Prize (1999), California Scientist of the Year (1999) the American Association for Cancer Research – G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award (2000), American Cancer Society Medal of Honour (2000), AACR-Pezcoller Foundation International Award for Cancer Research (2001), General Motors Cancer Research Foundation International Award for Cancer Research (2001), E.B. Wilson Award of the American Society for Cell Biology (2001), 26th Annual Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research (2003), and the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine (2004).

In 2002, Elizabeth was appointed to President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, which is charged with advising the president on moral and ethical issues surrounding advances in biomedical science and technology. Her tenure on the Council ended in 2004. In 2007, Elizabeth was listed among the Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2008, she was one of five women to receive the 10th annual L’Oréal-Unesco Awards for Women in Science.

Doctor Elizabeth Blackburn is a scientist, teacher, a wife and a mother – she has stated that the most memorable week of her life, which occurred at age 37, was when she received her full professorship at the University of California, San Francisco, and discovered in the same week that she was about to become a mother.

In 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn’s outstanding contribution to her chosen area of science was recognised through being named joint winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

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