12/10/1999 08:00:00

David Baltimore and Seymour Benzer awarded honorary degrees from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

PASADENA—David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology, and Seymour Benzer, James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, Emeritus, were awarded honorary degrees by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Watson School of Biological Sciences on November 5 at the school's inaugural convocation.

Since his initial contact with CSHL as a member of the first class of the lab's Undergraduate Research Program, Baltimore has maintained close ties with the lab. "I returned at least once every year for the next 20 years, either for a seminar, a symposium, or a course. In fact, I got my start in virology at the CSHL Animal Virus Course in 1961, and my start in immunology at the CSHL Symposium in 1976." Baltimore has been president of Caltech since October 1997. Before coming to Caltech, he was an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was founding director of MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and served from 1982, the year of the institute's creation, to 1990, when he became president of Rockefeller University. His career has been distinguished by his dual contribution to biological research and to national science policy.

Baltimore helped pioneer the molecular study of animal viruses, and his research in this field had profound implications for understanding cancer and, later, AIDS. In 1975, he shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Howard Temin and Renato Dulbecco.

Baltimore has been a major figure in Washington as head of the National Institutes of Health AIDS Vaccine Research Committee, and also in 1986 as co-chair of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine's committee on a National Strategy for AIDS. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of London.

After attending a course on bacteriophage genetics at CSHL in the summer of 1948, Benzer, whose early interest was in physics, subsequently changed fields and became a preeminent molecular biologist. He initially worked in phage genetics and, since 1960, has worked in nervous system development and behavioral genetics of the fruit fly Drosophila.

Benzer received his BA in 1942 from Brooklyn College and a PhD from Purdue University in 1947. Before joining the Caltech faculty in 1965, he had been the Stuart Distinguished Professor of Biophysics at Purdue University. Benzer has won numerous other awards while on the faculty at Caltech, including the National Medal of Science and the Crafoord Prize.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a private, nonprofit research and educational institution with programs focusing on cancer, neurobiology, and plant biology. Its other areas of research expertise include molecular and cellular biology, genetics, structural biology, and bioinformatics. CSHL is located in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

Founded in 1891, Caltech has an enrollment of some 2,000 students, and an academic staff of about 280 professorial faculty and 130 research faculty. The Institute has more than 19,000 alumni. Caltech employs a staff of more than 1,700 on campus and 5,300 at JPL.

Over the years, 28 Nobel Prizes and four Crafoord Prizes have been awarded to faculty members and alumni, including the Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to Professor Ahmed Zewail in October. Forty-four Caltech faculty members and alumni have received the National Medal of Science; and eight alumni (two of whom are also trustees), two additional trustees, and one faculty member have won the National Medal of Technology. Since 1958, 13 faculty members have received the annual California Scientist of the Year award. On the Caltech faculty there are 77 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and on the faculty and Board of Trustees, 69 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 48 members of the National Academy of Engineering.

Written by Sue McHugh