Meet a Photobiologist
Kendric C. Smith, ASP Founder

Background: B.S. in Chemistry, Stanford, 1947
Ph.D. in Biochemistry, UC Berkeley, 1952
ASP Founder and President, 1972-1974

Questions & Answers

Q: What drove you to found the ASP?
A: Well, at the time I was studying UV photobiology and DNA repair. Photobiologists didn’t have an American society and UV photobiologists were somewhat “orphans” in the biophysical society. As I got involved with more photobiologists that were scattered around in all different societies I knew there would be an advantage if we could talk to each other and learn from each other. I first started a Northern California photobiology society. Later, when the Photobiology Committee of the National Academy of Sciences was fundraising for an international congress I figured why not start the American Society for Photobiology.

Q: And what was the response?
A: Well, that is how you start things. You just do it and people come. There were other scientists who doubted it at the time since photobiology wasn’t a classical discipline like chemistry or physics. I have said at a previous meeting that photobiology will reach maturity when scientists introduce themselves foremost as photobiologists.

Q: So how do you introduce yourself?
A: As a photobiologist of course.

Q: What were those early days like?
A: There was a lot of excitement. There was interest in all areas of photobiology and it was a really active group. The research was highly diverse and everyone benefited from exchanging ideas and interacting. Sadly, things have gotten split up a bit and some of the smaller groups like photomovement have almost disappeared.

Q: But doesn’t ASP still cover a broad spectrum of photobiology research areas?
A: It is supposed to. We used to have council members for all twelve different disciplines that were represented. Now some of those have been merged and photomedicine has become a dominating focus. ASP is a fantastic society for photomedicine, but I worry that the smaller research areas are falling through the cracks. It has always been difficult maintaining a balance in the council between all the diverse areas, but that is what the ASP has to strive to do. Also, sometimes the problem is compounded because members of those smaller fields themselves are difficult to reach out to.

Q: Are you still working at Stanford?
A: I am a professor emeritus. I still use my Stanford email and have emeritus events to attend. My wife was a professor here too. But we are not as active as we used to be. We lived on campus until a couple years ago when we moved to a retirement community nearby.

Q: What research are you still interested in these days?
A: I’m curious about things and still read a lot of scientific magazines. I look into a lot of things, but I am also enjoying my retirement.

Q: And what does retirement entail?
A: I’m a computer nerd and I have done a lot of web pages. I also am a bird-watcher and more recently I have gotten into butterfly-watching. I’m now especially interested in Monarch Butterflies and have a website.

Q: Those hobbies sound like they require patience.
A: I guess patience is required in all activities of life. But bird and butterfly watching is an active hobby and is lots of fun. If it wasn’t for bird watching we wouldn’t know about all the great local parks nearby here. I took bird classes at night school and now am learning about butterflies

Q: Do these have anything in common with doing scientific research?
A: Well, it comes down to inquisitiveness, which is part of science. Be it birds migratory patterns or butterfly life cycles, it comes down to figuring out how things can possibly do what they do.

Q: Regarding websites, what prompted you to start Photobiological Sciences Online (PSO,
A: I authored or edited 12 books on photobiology. If a chapter in a book needs to be corrected or revised, it takes several years before a new edition is published. But with an online textbook, corrections and additions can be done quickly and easily, and PSO is free. I am always trying to get more authors to write more modules, and for the current authors to revise their modules. I receive letters of appreciation about PSO from all over the world.

Q: Will you be attending the next ASP meeting in San Diego?
A: No unfortunately, I am wrapped up with things here.

Q: Do you have any advice for younger photobiologists?
A: That’s a tough question. Just do whatever research you are most interested in. Pursue it even if it is not the best way to make money because if it makes you happy that is the best thing. In my case, I thought I would be going into medicine, but then I got hooked on biochemistry research and followed my passion by pursuing a PhD and kept on going.

Q: What about advice for the ASP, going forward?
A: Make sure all the disciplines of photobiology are welcome at ASP.

We reached Kendric Smith via phone at his home in Los Gatos, CA. Additional information about Kendric’s work and the history of ASP is available at his website: and also:

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