The Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy has been an integral part of City of Hope for 59 years. In 1960, the first two students enrolled. Today, approximately 1,500 students have participated. The program was established by City of Hope’s director emeritus of neurobiochemistry, and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Eugene Roberts, Ph.D., who passed away in November 2016. His career with City of Hope spanned more than six decades.
Since 1977, the program director has been Paul Salvaterra, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurosciences. In 2017, David Ann, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Diabetes Complications and Metabolism became the program director for the academy’s 57th year. Salvaterra became program director emeritus.
Eugene Roberts, upon completion of his doctoral work at University of Michigan in 1943 was recruited as the assistant head of the Manhattan Project’s inhalation section at University of Rochester. The group to which he belonged set the legal safety limits for human exposure to uranium dusts.
In 1946, he joined the Division of Cancer Research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. There he organized a group to study the nitrogen metabolism of normal and neoplastic tissues. The major conclusion of the studies was the generalization that "no matter how or from which tissue tumors arise, they more nearly resemble each other biochemically than do normal tissues or than normal tissues resemble each other.” The importance of the amino acid glutamine stood out.
Roberts’ research also led to the discovery of the presence of large amounts of GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) in the brain and spinal cord, and played a key role in establishing it to be the major inhibitory neurotransmitter.
In 1954, Roberts came to the City of Hope to organize a research program. As a summer investigator for six years at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Maine, he was inspired by the summer student program that provided talented high school students with research opportunities. Among them were Howard Temin and David Baltimore, both of whom became Nobel Laureates. That program became a model for City of Hope's Summer Student Academy.
Roberts’s research focused on identifying major inhibitory command-control mechanisms at levels of membranes, genome, brain and society.
He was supported by his wife, Ruth Roberts, who performed laboratory research, administrative tasks and managed the summer academy for many years. Together they embodied the ethos that scientific research is not a job but a passion, a way of life. Ruth Roberts is still actively engaged with the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy, offering every student the opportunity to meet with her.