Bachelor, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1980; Doctor of Philosophy, Stanford University, 1985.
His research is focused on molecular motors particularly on kinesin and dynein. He has been an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1995, and in 2012 was the president of the American Society for Cell Biology. Vale earned his BA in biology and chemistry from University of California, Santa Barbara in 1980.
Vale did his graduate work in the laboratory of Eric Shooter, where he pursued the question of how biomolecules were transported inside of nerve cells. During this time, Vale visited the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole so he could study this question in the squid giant axon. It was at MBL in 1985 that he discovered kinesin by observing the movement of organelles moving along microtubule filaments in squid axons similar to what had been seen by Michael Sheetz and James Spudich with myosin.
However, when examining this new system, he recognized that the movement was independent of the myosin and actin system. Vale, Sheetz, and Thomas Reese were able to purify kinesin and demonstrate its force-generating properties. After receiving his PhD, Vale returned to the Marine Biological Laboratory to do postdoctoral research.
Vale joined the UCSF faculty in 1986. Using plastic beads, he was able to track the motion of the motors moving along microtubules. To observe the force-generating action of kinesin, the Vale laboratory used an optical trapping microscope.
Ultimately, his group worked out the molecular steps that kinesin uses to convert energy into mechanical force. In 1995, Vale and colleagues solved the crystal structure of the kinesin motor domain. Since then, the Vale lab has made significant contributions to the field of cell biology, including discovering the severing protein katanin, characterizing dynein's function and structure, and identifying other new proteins that regulate the cytoskeleton.
Vale has founded several organizations related to science outreach. He founded and continues to support MicroManager, which is free and open-source microscopy software. Vale founded iBiology, which is a library of free online talks given by leading research scientists.
Vale participates in many outreach activities in the scientific community in India, including starting and organizing an annual microscopy course in Bangalore as well as a Young Investigator Meeting, which provides a networking opportunity for young scientists. Lastly, he also developed Microscopy 4 Kids, a website that provides a guide for digital microscopy using an inexpensive microscope.
[National Academy of Sciences]
He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.