Prof. Nancy Hopkins

United States

Born in New York City in 1943, Professor Emerita Nancy Hopkins has made prodigious contributions in basic molecular biology, the genetics of cancer viruses, and the genetics of early vertebrate development, and is a pioneer in advancing the role of women in science. She completed a PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry at Harvard University, conducted postdoctoral research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Cancer Research as an assistant professor in 1973. Currently, she is the Amgen Professor of Biology Emerita at MIT.

In her PhD research, Nancy Hopkins demonstrated that a protein coded for by a bacterial virus binds to specific DNA sequences to control gene expression – seminal experiments that left an indelible mark on scientists’ understanding of how genes are turned on and off. As a postdoctoral fellow, she changed fields to study animal cells and viruses. As a faculty member at MIT, she used genetics to map RNA tumor virus genes, identifying genes that determine host range, the type and severity of cancers mouse retroviruses cause, and the mechanisms by which they cause cancer. Later, Hopkins switched fields again and achieved unprecedented success in developing tools for zebrafish research, devising an efficient method for large-scale insertional mutagenesis and cloning hundreds of genes that play a role in creating a viable zebrafish embryo. These genes included known and novel genes that predispose zebrafish – a premier model system in vertebrate development and cancer biology – to cancer.

Prof. Hopkins has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to end discrimination against women in science – working to ensure that female scientists are able to advance in their careers, secure necessary resources, and receive acknowledgement for their achievements. Her tremendous efforts over the years have sparked a movement to address gender bias in science. She chaired the committee that authored the influential 1999 Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT, and was appointed Co-Chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT in 2000. She is also the co-founder of the MIT Future Founders Initiative, launched in 2020 to increase the number of female faculty members who start biotechnology companies.

Prof. Hopkins' numerous honors and awards include membership in the US National Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.