National Academies Press: OpenBook

Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62 (1993)

Chapter: Return to Caltech

« Previous: Cold Spring Harbor and the Phage and Phycomyces Courses
Suggested Citation:"Return to Caltech." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
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Page 86
Suggested Citation:"Return to Caltech." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
×
Page 87
Suggested Citation:"Return to Caltech." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
×
Page 88

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MAX LUDWIG HENNING DELBRÜCK 86 of the fungus Phycomyces. As in the case of phage, he became the leader of a Phycomyces Group, interested in various aspects of tropic behavior in this organism. From 1965 onwards Max organized the first of a series of eight Phycomyces Workshops, held at Cold Spring Harbor over the next twelve years. Each lasted about 2 months, they attracted, all told, more than 100 people, and Max led or participated in all of them. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory therefore became a Mecca to which Max's followers in these two fields made their annual summer Hadj, not only to attend the more formal courses or workshops but also to continue their research in an exciting and stimulating environment. As James Watson, the present Director of the Laboratory, who became a PhD student of Luria in 1947, has reflected, "My approach to science as well as to people became indelibly fixed the following summer (1948) when we all came together at Cold Spring Harbor— the Delbrücks, the Lurias, Gunther Stent, Seymour Benzer and I—in an atmosphere that I can never remember as less than perfect. Now I realize that all the personality of Cold Spring Harbor, which I so loved then and still do, was given to it by Max" (3). It is therefore most fitting that a recently completed major extension of the Davenport Laboratory, the site of so much of Max's research as well as of the Phage and Phycomyces courses at Cold Spring Harbor, was dedicated as the Max Delbrück Laboratory in August 1981. Return to Caltech The war over, Max's preeminent role in the Phage Renaissance, and his novel and distinguished background as a theoretical physicist turned successful biologist, prompted offers, in 1946, of senior appointments at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology,

MAX LUDWIG HENNING DELBRÜCK 87 and the Universities of Illinois and Manchester, England. Vanderbilt University responded by promising him everything he wanted. He was especially interested in the Chair of Biophysics at Manchester, negotiated about May 1946 by P. M. S. Blackett who was then Professor of Physics, and Max visited there to discuss the appointment; he and his wife Manny were tempted to move to England because of the many attachments he had formed there in his early postgraduate years, while Manny had grown up in a British environment on the island of Cyprus. Max was also willing to listen to the Vanderbilt enticements. However, when the offer of a Chair of Biology at Caltech arrived on 11 December 1946 it proved irresistible, and was accepted on 27 December. This was the first faculty appointment in biology made by George W. Beadle who had recently succeeded T. H. Morgan as Chairman of the Biology Division. If Cold Spring Harbor had become the Phage Mecca, visited by the converted for their intellectual refreshment, Max's laboratory at Caltech ''now became the Phage Group's Vatican, where most of the disciples of what was later to be called the 'informational school' of molecular biology took their orders" (6). Recruitment followed fast from both the physical and biological sciences and "it is likely that the sense of excitement which often permeates a developing cluster must be generated by someone with Delbrück's charismatic force of personality" (5, p. 79). It is perhaps of interest that, during what Stent (17) has called the "Romantic Period" of molecular biology (up to 1953), about the same proportion of recruits to the phage field came from the physical sciences as from the biological sciences (5, p. 66). It is likely that an appreciable proportion of the former was motivated by Schrödinger's imaginative prediction about the nature of the gene in his book What Is Life?. Indeed, one of Max's colleagues at Caltech

MAX LUDWIG HENNING DELBRÜCK 88 at this time was Neville Symonds who came from postdoctoral studies on wave mechanics with Schrödinger, then working in Dublin as a former refugee from Nazi Germany. James Watson, on the other hand, whose interests and undergraduate background were in biology, admits that his main incentive was the "legendary figure" of Max evoked by Schrödinger's book. Among the many phage devotees engaged in active research at Caltech during the early years of Max's leadership was Elie Wollman of the Pasteur Institute, Paris. André Lwoff, who was head of the Service de Physiologie Microbienne at the Pasteur Institute, had attended the 1946 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium and had there encountered Max and the Phage Group. He found the atmosphere stimulating and "swallowed everything with enthusiasm," but his interests at that time lay elsewhere; he did not attend the Phage Course nor start work on lysogeny until about 1949 (2, p. 88). Wollman was his first ambassador to Caltech, and thereafter many members of the American Phage Group worked for a time at the Pasteur Institute which became the European Vatican. In 1949 the Delbrücks did not go to Cold Spring Harbor since Manny was expecting a child, so many of the Phage Group, including James Watson, came to Pasadena where "several times each week, there occurred seminars dominated by Delbrück's insistence that the results logically fit into some form of pretty hypothesis" (2, p. 239). Two new visitors to Caltech at this time were Ole Maaloe from Copenhagen University and Jean Weigle who was head of the Physics Institute in the University of Geneva; these two constituted a very small "Class of 49" that graduated under Max's supervision. (2, p. 265). Weigle's account of his Caltech experiences, on his return to Geneva, decided to the electron microscopist, Ed

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Biographic Memoirs: Volume 62 contains the biographies of deceased members of the National Academy of Sciences and bibliographies of their published works. Each biographical essay was written by a member of the Academy familiar with the professional career of the deceased. For historical and bibliographical purposes, these volumes are worth returning to time and again.

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