The Caltech Institute Archives

Interview with Max Delbruck

Delbruck, Max (1979) Interview with Max Delbruck. [Oral History]

PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Interview in 1978 with Max Delbruck, professor of biology emeritus, begins with his recollections of growing up in an academic family in Berlin. Trained at Gottingen in the late 1920s as a theoretical physicist, he later switched to biology, inspired by Niels Bohr to investigate the applications of complementarity to biological phenomena. After postgraduate work at Bristol and Copenhagen, he returned to Berlin in 1932 to work for Lise Meitner and formed a "club" of theoretical physicists, biologists, and biochemists, who met for discussions at his mother's house. Recollections of the advent of the Nazis in 1933. In 1937 Delbruck left Berlin for Caltech on a Rockefeller Fellowship; he defends the decision of other German scientists, notably Heisenberg, to remain in Germany. At Caltech he began working in Drosophila genetics but quickly shifted to phage work with Emory Ellis. Moved to Vanderbilt University in 1940, where he remained for seven years; comments on Oswald Avery's identification of DNA as the "transforming principle." Recalls his association with Salvador Luria and summer phage group at Cold Spring Harbor in the 1940s; joint letter with Linus Pauling to Science in 1940 on intermolecular forces in biological processes; his reaction to 1945 publication of Erwin Schrodinger's What is Life? Returned to Caltech in 1947 as professor of biology; comments on activities of Biology Division under chairmen George W. Beadle and Ray Owen, and the psychobiology of Roger Sperry. Recalls 1953 Watson-Crick discovery of the structure of DNA; comments on Watson as director of Cold Spring Harbor and on The Double Helix. Comments on receiving (with Luria and Alfred Hershey) the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Recalls his later work on Phycomyces. The interview ends with Delbruck's overview of the history of German science and its travails under the Nazis, and recollections of his postwar visits there.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:DNA; complementarity; molecular biology
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Delbruck_M
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
All Records
Subjects > Biology
ID Code:16
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:21 Oct 2002
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

Repository Staff Only: item control page