Gene Block became chancellor of UCLA in August 2007. An expert in neuroscience, Block’s current research focuses on the effects of aging in the nervous system and how it impacts biological timing in mammals, including humans. Before participating in a panel discussion about technology’s impact on our health, Block visited the Zócalo green room to talk about which crime he would legalize, his go-to jetlag remedy, and the eighth grade English teacher who inspired him.
Q: What is your favorite use of public space in Los Angeles?
A: Disney Hall. It’s the most amazing building and it’s right here.
Q: Early in your career you studied mollusks. Which mollusk would you want to be if you could be any of them?
A: Probably an abalone because they’re so desirable. People respect abalone. They may eat them, but they are the food of royalty.
Q: Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
A: I had a couple. One was Gene the Bean.
Q: What dessert do you find impossible to resist?
A: German chocolate cake.
Q: If you could legalize one crime, which would you choose?
A: That one requires some care, actually. [Pauses while thinking.] Probably drug use because we’d end up putting fewer people in jail. I think that’s a terrible problem for us.
Q: You worked on a study that showed jetlag increased the death rate in older mice. What’s your go-to jetlag remedy?
A: Sleep hygiene—really being disciplined about sleep. That’s the best you can do.
Q: What’s your guilty TV-watching pleasure?
A: I watch so little TV. That’s so hard to answer. When exercising, to get motivated, I watch Fox News. That gets me moving on the treadmill.
Q: What’s your favorite condiment?
A: Is honey considered a condiment? If it is, honey.
Q: I read that you worked as a dairy products truck driver for your father when you were growing up in New York’s Catskills. What’s your strangest memory or funniest delivery from that time?
A: That was a long time ago … There were people who would give you back a little bit of milk in the bottle and say it was sour and it almost killed them and they needed a refund. It was almost gone. I was getting hustled by senior citizens. We battled with them but in the end we gave them a refund.
Q: What teacher or professor changed your life, if any?
A: I had an eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Rasch, who inspired me more than any other teacher. She was a creative writer and really encouraged students to write creatively, and that was unusual in high school. Those were the days when women were limited professionally. She would be a college professor today.
*Photo by Aaron Salcido.