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Genesis of the Salk Institute

Genesis of the Salk Institute: The Epic of Its Founders

Suzanne Bourgeois
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Genesis of the Salk Institute
    Book Description:

    This work is a personal account of the origins and early years of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Bourgeois crafts an engaging study that draws on her involvement with the Institute and on related archives, interviews, and informal conversations.

    The volume discusses the people who founded the Institute and built a home for renowned research—leading scientists of the time as well as non-scientists of stature in finance, politics, philanthropy, publishing, and the humanities. The events that brought people together, the historic backdrop in which they worked, their personalities, their courage and their visions, their clash of egos and their personal vanities are woven together in a rich, engaging narrative about the founding of a world-premier research institution.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95659-9
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Roger Guillemin

    The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is as known and respected in the world of science as it is known and admired in the world of art. This remarkable book by Suzanne Bourgeois takes us through the twenty years following the success of the Salk vaccine against polio and the public adulation it generated.

    Jonas Salk was well aware of the need for a new type of institute with a flexible structure that could respond to changing times, as was the polymath Leo Szilard. It might be recalled that it was Szilard who with Einstein had initiated the warning to...

  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. The Characters
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. Chronology
    (pp. xix-xxvi)
  8. Prologue: The Greatest Generation
    (pp. xxvii-xxxiv)

    The founders of the Salk Institute are the heroes of this story. They belonged to the generation of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Scientifically, they saw the emergence of the field of molecular biology, and several of our founders played an essential role in what turned out to be a revolution in biology. However, it is World War II—both its horrific events and its aftermath—that marked them most as they became deeply involved in experiences that shaped their view of the future, what they wanted to do, the way they operated, and their capacity for...

  9. CHAPTER 1 Before and after Ann Arbor
    (pp. 1-13)

    Poliomyelitis (polio) in the United States has essentially disappeared. Actually, the neurological form of polio was rare, and most victims of the disease survived.² However, polio victims were typically children, and some of the survivors were left with crippling paralysis. Polio could leave shocking and heartbreaking evidence: little kids struggling to walk with braces and crutches or confined to monstrous iron lungs. Understandably, all parents were terrified, and it is that terror that inspired an entirely new approach to fund raising. Millions of ordinary people, not millionaires, united to collect large sums of money one dime at a time. It...

  10. CHAPTER 2 Doctor Polio Meets Doctor Atomic
    (pp. 14-26)

    In the summer of 1955, in the midst of the excitement over the polio vaccine, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) was in a state of flux—and expectation—as negotiations to appoint a new chancellor were underway. Chancellor Rufus Fitzgerald had reached age sixty-five and, at his farewell dinner, he had advised the new administration “to bring the University of Pittsburgh into the forefront of American institutions of higher education.” The trustees agreed and had found their man: his name was Edward Harold Litchfield, and he became the twelfth chancellor of Pitt.²

    Litchfield was then dean of the Graduate School...

  11. CHAPTER 3 Enter Leo Szilard
    (pp. 27-40)

    By September 1958, six months after the second University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) committee meeting, the negotiations with Litchfield were bogged down and Salk was clearly thinking about alternatives. He had kept in close touch with Basil O’Connor, the powerful founding president of the Polio Foundation and his strongest supporter, who continued to encourage Salk. Although one can only imagine Salk’s conversations with O’Connor, it appears that O’Connor gave Salk indications that the Polio Foundation might be willing to support the creation of an institute independent of the university.² Moreover, conversations with Oppenheimer in early 1959 further encouraged Salk to consider...

  12. CHAPTER 4 Atoms in Biology
    (pp. 41-53)

    Max Delbrück epitomizes the physicist-turned-biologist, and, by attracting other outsiders to this emerging field, he became a major founder of molecular biology. In 1906 he was born into a distinguished family in Berlin: the famous chemist Justus von Liebig was his mother’s grandfather, and his uncle was Adolf von Harnack, the founding president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. After completing his graduate studies in theoretical physics in Göttingen in 1929, Delbrück took a job for about a year at the University of Bristol. This was his first time outside Germany and his first exposure to a different culture and language....

  13. CHAPTER 5 What Was It about La Jolla?
    (pp. 54-70)

    By 1960 a number of people had heard about La Jolla, California, but even among those people many still did not know how to spell it. It was not that easy to find out since La Jolla was literally not yet on the map. Jonas Salk, however, had been familiar with the name since 1956. This is when a collaborator from his University of Pittsburgh laboratory, Lenora Brown, had left Pittsburgh for La Jolla with her husband, Massoud Simnad. Massoud had been offered a job he could not refuse at General Atomic, a new division of General Dynamics that had...

  14. CHAPTER 6 The Pasteur Connection
    (pp. 71-90)

    The Pasteur connection to the Salk Institute was initiated in the summer of 1946 at the Cold Spring Harbor symposium entitled “Heredity and Variation in Microorganisms,” the first CSH symposium after World War II (see chapter 4 and frontispiece). This was a seminal meeting that launched the field of bacterial genetics. Its remarkable audience included several Frenchmen, notably Jacques Monod and André Lwoff from the Institut Pasteur in Paris. It was at that meeting that Monod met Alwin Pappenheimer, who was then a professor of microbiology at New York University. After the meeting Monod and Lwoff spent the weekend at...

  15. CHAPTER 7 The Spirit of Paris
    (pp. 91-106)

    While Lennox and Cohn were preparing for their stay in Paris, Jonas Salk certainly was not idle. The year 1960 had been critical to the creation of the institute, as it was during this time that La Jolla was chosen as its location and the institute’s articles of incorporation and first bylaws were formulated (see chapter 5). However, the institute did not yet exist. A few potential Fellows had become interested in the venture, which some, such as Jim Watson, described as “Jonas’ utopia.”² Indeed, without a building or a faculty, and nothing more than big plans and promises, serious...

  16. CHAPTER 8 Our Dear Kahn Building
    (pp. 107-119)

    The first public announcement of the NF-MOD’s financial troubles appeared in various newspapers, including the New York Times, on July 1, 1960, less than one month after the June 7 vote. Charles Massey, who was then national director of MOD chapters, candidly discussed with the press the foundation’s problems.² The Salk vaccine had been so successful that public concern about polio had decreased dramatically, reducing contributions to the organization by more than 50 percent since in 1954, the year before the Salk vaccine became available. Meanwhile, the foundation was still paying for the care of polio patients for whom the...

  17. CHAPTER 9 Pioneering
    (pp. 120-142)

    The barracks into which we moved in 1963—two wooden frame buildings painted white—were quite functional. The first building completed housed Jonas’s laboratory and included facilities to be shared: a tiny library/seminar room and the laboratory kitchen, where culture media were prepared and laboratory glassware was washed and sterilized. The second building was to house the labs of the other resident Fellows. A deck facing the ocean connected the two barracks. With a few garden tables and chairs, this was where we sat to have lunch and to talk. The deck was mostly the domain of Leo Szilard. There...

  18. CHAPTER 10 The McCloy Boys
    (pp. 143-160)

    In October 1967 the Salk Institute board nominated a new president. His name was Joseph (Joe) E. Slater, and he was to be CEO and trustee of the institute as well. Joe was tall, handsome, well dressed, a good talker in three languages (including German and French), and was extremely well connected. Within the first minute of meeting someone, he would mention enough names of powerful and famous people to make anybody incredulous. In fact, he did personally know an incredible number of celebrities in politics, business, and the arts. His connections were international, and he could perhaps be best...

  19. CHAPTER 11 Biology in Human Affairs
    (pp. 161-171)

    From its inception, the Salk Institute was conceived as a center for research sensitive to the social and humanistic implications of advances in biology. Leo Szilard was a symbol of the scientists’ social responsibilities. The destructive use of atomic energy in World War II made him painfully aware that scientists in general—not just physicists—were accountable for their discoveries. Biologists in particular research problems that raise a variety of issues that affect the well-being of man. This makes biology the ideal discipline for building bridges between the two cultures, that of the sciences and that of the humanities. That...

  20. CHAPTER 12 A Napoleon from Byzantium
    (pp. 172-180)

    The takeover of the institute presidency by Frederic (Fred) de Hoffmann in 1972 (see chapter 10) represented the end of Salk’s original vision for our institute. The institute changed from idealistic to realistic and from lean to mean. De Hoffmann’s style came as a shock. Like Byzantine politics, all of his dealings were complicated, underhanded, and nonnegotiable. De Hoffmann greatly admired Napoleon, whose life he had studied as a boy, and the experience of the Emperor of the French probably encouraged Fred’s delusions of grandeur and thirst for absolute power.² He preferred to keep his family background a mystery. Most...

  21. Epilogue: Fifty Years Later
    (pp. 181-184)

    Today (2012), the Salk Institute scientific staff numbers about 850, some fifty-five of whom are resident faculty members. It is still a small standalone biological research institute, but in fifty years it has grown to about twice the size of 450 originally planned by Jonas Salk.² The scientific excellence that characterized the founders established the standard by which the next generation of the institute’s scientists were selected. Although it is still small, the institute has lost the feel of a family where everybody knows your name and the cachet of a boutique where every product is special.

    Growth of the...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 185-204)
  23. Abbreviations
    (pp. 205-206)
  24. References
    (pp. 207-214)
  25. Index
    (pp. 215-230)