Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry*

by William C. Summers

Professor of Therapeutic Radiology, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, and History of Medicine, and Lecturer in History


During World War II many university physicists undertook new research programs aimed at wartime goals. Notable among these goals were the Manhattan Project to investigate and exploit nuclear energy for military purposes and the project, based at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, to develop radar as a military surveillance tool. Yale nuclear physicist Ernest Pollard, a student of Chadwick and Rutherford, was recruited for the Radiation Lab (known informally as the “Rad Lab”) by Ernest Lawrence. Prior to the war, Pollard had been carrying on a modest program of teaching and research in nuclear physics at Yale in the Department of Physics, then chaired by William Watson. In Pollard’s view, wartime physics research fundamentally changed the style and form of physics in America. Nuclear physics had become big science, requiring expensive equipment and teams of scientists, not an activity for a university professor with a small research group and major teaching obligations. In addition, having spent the war years working on microwave research, Pollard and other members of the Rad Lab had lost out on the excitement and new advances, many of them still classified, in nuclear physics coming out of the Manhattan Project.

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*From Science at Yale, edited by Sidney Altman, 2002, Yale University Press, on the occasion of the Tercentenary of Yale University (1701-2001).

Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Receives Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Yale Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry is elated by the award of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Thomas Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, in recognition of his contributions in elucidating the structure of the ribosome.