Elizabeth Blackburn’s adolescence was similar to that of other girls growing up in the 1960s. She followed current trends in fashion, listened to the Beatles, and had siblings whom she argued with but also admired. Additionally, she was also a model student who consistently achieved high marks in academics. Being the fifth of seven children, her siblings considered her the most self-motivated of the bunch; worrying less about pleasing others and more about independent success.
Although Blackburn’s family background is primarily English, she was born in Hobart, Tasmania, three years after the conclusion of World War II. Her father’s family travelled to Austrailia from Northern England in 1882. Her great-grandfather, Reverend Thomas Blackburn, was an Anglican minister who became obsessed with entomology after reading the Charles Darwin’s 1859 publication, Origin of the Species. After cataloguing many species in Hawaii, Thomas Blackburn moved to Australia to further his studies. Elizabeth’s father, Harold Blackburn, inherited his father’s scientific disposition and earned a medical degree from the University of Adelaide.
Similarly, Blackburn’s maternal side of the family shared an obsession with science and didn’t shy away from traveling. Blackburn’s maternal great-grandfather, Robert Logan Jack, was a geologist who surveyed minerals throughout China until 1904 when the Boxer Rebellion threatened both his and his son’s safety. His son, Blackburn’s grandfather, later wrote about his travels and perpetuated his father’s legacy, becoming a geologist himself. Though not through geology, Blackburn’s mother, Marcia Constance, pursued a scientific career earning a medical degree from the University of Melbourne during World War II.
Given the strong prevalence of science in Elizabeth Blackburn’s familial histories, her decision to pursue may seem anticlimactic but unexpected happenings discouraged Blackburn’s decision. Before completing secondary school, her father’s drinking problem brought about her parent’s divorce and a move to Melbourne. As a result, Blackburn’s mother acted as the sole provider for her seven children and greatly suffered from depression; the episodes of depression eventually led to hospitalization and financial instability. Nevertheless, Blackburn’s independent curiosities led her to develop a fascination of biological sciences early in her adolescence, particularly the structural elegance and subtle understandings found among the amino acids. Against her mother’s recommendations, those feelings led her to pursue an undergraduate degree in biochemistry (Brady; ch. 1).
Elizabeth attended the University of Melbourne to pursue a degree in biochemistry; the leading university in Australia. She was admitted into the Janet Clarke Hall for women; a residential college that offered tutoring, supplement lectures, a library, and meals. Most of her peers had previously attended private schools but...