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Joshua Lederberg

Portrait of Joshua Lederberg
  • Born: May 23, 1925, Montclair, New Jersey
  • Died: February 2, 2008, New York, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0199
Interview Date: August 18, 2000
Location: The Rockefeller University, New York, New York
Interviewer: Audra J. Wolfe
No. of pages: 30

  Abstract of Interview

Joshua Lederberg begins the interview with a discussion of his involvement in the contamination issues of planetary exploration. As interest in space exploration gained momentum, Lederberg was in the midst of discussion regarding protecting the Earth from possible extraterrestrial contamination. Lederberg felt that more emphasis needed to be placed on building a sound space program, one that focused more on planetary research rather than sending humans into space. Lederberg worked to develop alternatives to the "man-in-space" program, focusing on the importance for international cooperation. Lederberg served on several national committees, including the Space Science Board and the Kennedy Health Transition Team. After receiving the Nobel Prize in 1958, Lederberg joined the faculty of Stanford University, where he continued his life-long research in the genetic structure and function in microorganisms. Lederberg continued to be actively involved in artificial intelligence research and in the NASA experimental programs seeking life on Mars. He has also been a consultant on health-related matters for both the U.S. and international communities, serving on the World Health Organization's Advisory Health Research Council. Lederberg wrote his own column on a wide variety of topics, both scientific and non-scientific. Lederberg concludes the interview with a discussion of the environment at Stanford University during the Cold War and thoughts on U.S. defense projects.


1944 B.A., Biology, Columbia University
1947 Ph.D., Microbiology, Yale University

  Professional Experience

United States Navy

1943 - 1945 V-12 and Hospital Corps; Ens. USNR

Columbia University

1945 - 1946 Research Assistant, Zoology

Yale University

1946 - 1947 Research Fellow, Jane Coffin Childs Fund for Medical Research

University of Wisconsin

1947 - 1950 Assistant Professor of Genetics

University of Wisconsin

1950 - 1954 Associate Professor of Genetics

University of Wisconsin

1954 - 1959 Professor of Genetics

University of Wisconsin

1957 - 1959 Chair, Department of Medical Genetics

University of California, Berkeley

1950 - 1950 Visiting Professor of Bacteriology

University of Melbourne

1957 - 1957 Visiting Professor of Bacteriology

Stanford University School of Medicine

1959 - 1978 Professor of Genetics (also Biology, Computer Science)

Stanford University School of Medicine

1959 - 1978 Chairman, Department of Genetics

The Rockefeller University

1978 - 1990 President

The Rockefeller University

1990 - 2008 University Professor Emeritus


1957 National Academy of Sciences
1958 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
1960 Sc.D. (honorary), Yale University
1961 Alexander Hamilton Award, Columbia University
1961 Wilbur Cross Medal, Yale University
1961 Proctor Medal, Sigma Xi
1967 Sc.D. (honorary), University of Wisconsin
1967 Sc.D. (honorary), Columbia University
1969 M.D. (honorary), University of Turin
1970 Sc.D. (honorary), Yeshiva University
1979 Litt.D (honorary) Jewish Theological Seminary
1979 Foreign Member, Royal Academy of Sciences
1979 LL.D. (honorary), University of Pennsylvania
1980 Honrary Life Member, New York Academy of Sciences
1981 Sc.D. (honorary), Rutgers University
1981 Honorary Fellow, New York Academy of Medicine
1982 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1982 Fellow, American Philosophical Society
1982 Fellow, American Academy of the Arts and Sciences
1984 Sc.D. (honorary), New York University
1985 M.D. (honorary), Tufts University
1988 Distinguished Service Medal, Columbia University
1989 National Medal of Science
1991 D. Phil. (honorary), Tel Aviv University
1993 Founding Member, Académie Universelle des Cultures
1995 Allen Newell Award, Association for Computing Machinery
1996 John Stearns Award for Lifetime Achievement, New York Academy of Medicine
1997 Mayor's Award in Science and Technology, City of New York
1997 Maxwell Finland Award, National Foundation of Infectious Diseases
1998 Dr. Mil. Med. (honorary), USUHS

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Planetary Exploration 1

Contamination issue. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Quarantine versus sterilization. Fort Detrick. Space Science Board (SSB). Committee on Contamination by Extraterrestrial Exploration (CETEX). Role of biology. Multivator. Space Programs. Man-in-space program. Carl Sagan. Searching for academic support. John F. Kennedy. International cooperation.

Committee and Federal Involvement 9

Kennedy Health Transition Team. University of Wisconsin Genetics Department. Arthur Kornberg. Winning Nobel Prize. Euphenics. Call for a National Academy of Medicine. Declining service on President's Science Advisory Committee. National Science Foundation (NSF). National Institutes of Health (NIH). Biological and chemical warfare. National security involvement. Committee on Disarmament. Department of Defense. World Health Organization (WHO).

Written Contributions 16

Harriet Zuckerman. Robert K. Merton. Freedom in writing column. Requests for interviews. Choosing column topics. Writing on non-science topics. Salvador E. Luria.

Conclusion 20

Environment at Stanford University in the 1960s. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Thoughts on Cold War. Student protests at Stanford.

Notes 26

Index 27

  About the Interviewer

Audra J. Wolfe

Audra J. Wolfe received her Ph.D. in history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. She received an M.A. from that program in 1999 and a B. S. in chemistry and biochemistry from Purdue University in 1997. She was the 2000 summer Othmer Student at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. In addition, she has been the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and was named an Honorary Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanistic Studies for 1997–1998. She is currently researching and writing a dissertation on the public role of American biologists in the postwar years.

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