Profile of Ran Kafri
Dr. Ran Kafri, PhD
- Scientist, Cell Biology
- Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I grew up in Israel and completed my Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute. Following my PhD, I moved to Boston to work towards my post doctorate at Harvard Medical School under the mentorship of Marc Kirschner and Galit Lahav.
2. What are you researching right now?
Our lab is working on two research projects:
- Cell Size.
In the context of cell size, we ask what makes animal cells and cancer cells the size that they are? Or, what are the signals that regulate growth in health and disease? We address these questions with microscopy and a good appetite for discovery.
- Developing inference methods for drug discovery.
The mathematician, Mark Kac, famously asked, “Can you hear the shape of a drum?” He was implying that with a bit of mathematics, one can learn the shape of a drum from how the drum sounds. Similarly, our lab has developed mathematical means to “hear” the influence of drugs on signaling.
3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
It is impossible to answer this question. By what criteria am I to rank Louis Pasteur, Rosalind Franklin and Albert Einstein? And yet, I do have a favourite. My favourite scientists are the brilliant three graduate students, two postdocs, technician and research associate that are make our lab what it is. It is their drive that makes me love my job.
4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
As with the above question, this question too is unanswerable. There are two types of discoveries in science. The first is the identification of new facts. One can image scientific knowledge as a giant wall. With this analogy, each new fact is one new brick in the ever growing wall. There are, however, a second type of scientific discoveries. Instead of revealing new facts, there are discoveries that shift the way we see things and expand the scientific vocabulary. The words “stem cell,” “growth factor,” and most recently, “systems biology” were only recently introduced into our vocabulary.
5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I am very interested in philosophy, perhaps even more so than science. I really like reading the works of philosophers such as David Hume and Wittgenstein; that is my biggest hobby.
6. Why science?
Why would one want to stand at the frontiers of what is known? And to try and push these frontiers a bit further? I don’t know. It sounds fun.
7. Why SickKids?
Why Sickkids? It has the most wonderful scientists, the most wonderful staff and is located in the best city in the world. Also, I like the constant dialogue with clinicians.
8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
That’s easy. Literature on cell size is dominated by the dogma that animal cells do not sense and monitor their own size. And yet, a few labs including ours, claim to have evidence to the contrary. Opinions shift slowly and we patiently collecting our evidence.
9. What are you reading right now?
Right now, philosophy. I’m reading the work of Hilary Putnam. It’s a book called The Collapse of the Fact/ Value Dichotomy and Other Essays.
10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I’m not the first to say this, but if you have to choose between the cautious attitude that is so often molded by experience and criticism to the naïve, daring and hopeful attitude of a new graduate student, choose the later. Einstein taught that imagination is better than knowledge. Embracing his teaching even in the face of criticism is important.
11. What does the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
My second home! I think that aesthetics inspires creativity which inspires progress. The building itself is beautiful and I don’t think you can do beautiful science in an ugly building, I mean you can… but it’s hard!