Green takes on 'Academic Matters'

    Why would a scientist, after over 40 years in his field, decide to start writing plays?

    As Melvin Green, a retired professor of biology who has been at UCSD since 1963, says, “”It is a very interesting question.””

    Green came to UCSD at the university’s beginning, when there were no buildings and not even students yet. He was hired as the fifth member of the biology department, and since then has shaped the direction of the sciences at UCSD. Despite his prestige in the department, what characterizes Green most as a professor is his desire to help students.

    It is this passion for teaching that answers the interesting question above. Green’s foray into play writing, which he describes as his new direction in life, is motivated by his love for science and teaching people exactly what it is all about.

    “”Part of it is this desire to teach and reach a wide audience,”” Green said. “”Most movies and plays about scientists present a distorted view: the scientist as a madman, a ‘nutty professor’ or as a very unusual genius such as in ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ My goal is, through fiction, to teach the non-science world what really goes on in conducting research.””

    In 2001, Green retired as an official professor, but he continues to teach several courses a year. BILD 1 and BILD 10 courses are still being touched by his unique blend of humor and science.

    “”That’s the fun I have now being retired,”” Green said. “”I can do whatever I want and hang out with students.””

    In the Muir Woods coffee shop he has placed a sign with the offering: “”Retired Bio Professor will advise for coffee.”” His casual attitude and willingness to aid students have endeared him to many.

    Green’s first play, “”Academic Matters,”” deals with a typical science professor and the social interactions that are an important part of getting research accomplished. It centers around Professor Joe Lehrer who, although being on the verge of a major breakthrough in his personal battle against cancer, suddenly finds he has lost his research funding. The story is one man’s struggle to overcome his fears and recapture his idealism.

    There will be a free play reading of “”Academic Matters”” on May 29 at 7 p.m. in Peterson 110. This reading gives UCSD students the opportunity to hear the play before it is sent to the Ensemble Studio Theater in New York City later this year. The EST is a theater group funded by the Sloan Foundation for the express purpose of teaching people about science and technology.

    “”The play reading is an opportunity for me to celebrate my 40 years here,”” he said. “”I can think of no better way than being with students.””

    As thrilled as Green is about his subject, he acknowledges the difficulties in appealing to people not interested in the sciences.

    “”[Of] course the challenge is to make it of interest and exciting without the Hollywood approach of sex and violence,”” Green said. “”It is a shame, in my opinion, that non-scientists fear and dislike science. Children are wonderful scientists. They ask questions, and know how to find the answers. Somewhere along the way, children lose that love of science.””

    Green hopes that the EST will accept his play and turn it into a real production.

    “”If I ever see this play produced, it will be the highlight of my life,”” he said. “”When you write something, there is a satisfaction to get it out of your head onto paper. But with a play, if it’s not produced or read, it’s like you’ve done nothing. As a scientist, I’m very accomplishment-oriented, so whatever it takes!””

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