Genesis of the Salk Institute: The Epic of Its Founders

Genesis of the Salk Institute: The Epic of Its Founders

Genesis of the Salk Institute: The Epic of Its Founders

Genesis of the Salk Institute: The Epic of Its Founders


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.


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 Roosevelt that led to the development of the atomic bomb. After World War II, Szilard’s idea was to bring the emerging field of molecular biology to bear on solutions to the most difficult problems of public health. Jonas was more interested in stressing translational research to deal with the same problems, but with time both ideas were to evolve and broaden. Initially, however, it was this common theme involving human welfare that was to bring them together.

Jonas visited the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton as a possible model, talked to its president, Robert Oppenheimer, and approached Basil O’Connor, president of the March of Dimes, to explore the idea and possible funding. Then followed offers from the East Coast to the West Coast for the location of his proposed institute, but the one that literally moved Jonas to La Jolla, California, was the donation of a stunning location by the people of San Diego. Meanwhile . . .

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