The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Balz Frei Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

January 10, 2014


Balz B. Frei was born in Winterthur, Switzerland in 1958. An engaged student from an early age, Frei developed an interest in biochemistry during his undergraduate and graduate years at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), where he studied from 1977 until the completion of his Ph. D in 1986. Interested in the processes fundamental to life, Frei focused on mitochondrial calcium transport during his time at the ETH, publishing widely on the subject.

In late 1986, Frei moved to the United States for a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley and worked under Bruce Ames, an influential molecular biologist. While at Berkeley, Frei's chief research concentration was damage to human health caused by oxidative stress. It was during this period that Frei also became interested in vitamin C and met Linus Pauling, the vitamin's most famous supporter.

After three and a half productive years in the Ames laboratory, Frei moved on to a position in the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health, and after four years at Harvard, Frei relocated to the Boston University School of Medicine. During his time in New England, Frei continued to work on oxidative stress and the role that it plays in atherosclerosis, while also investigating arterial function and potential dietary compounds - including vitamin C - that might help prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

In 1997 Frei accepted the position of Director of the Linus Pauling Institute, then newly arrived at Oregon State University after a tumultuous twenty-three year history in the San Francisco Bay Area. Under Frei's leadership, the Institute stabilized its funding base, hired several principal investigators and made substantial contributions to the published literature on subjects relating to nutrition and optimal human health.

In 2011 the Institute celebrated a major milestone with the completion of the Linus Pauling Science Center. This 105,000 square foot facility, built for $62.5 million, is the largest academic facility project in OSU history. Now housed in this new space, LPI continues to conduct research on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, healthy aging, and cancer chemoprotection, and engages in public outreach through its Micronutrient Information Center and Healthy Youth Program.

Balz Frei retired from OSU and the Linus Pauling Institute in June 2016.