Monday, September 26, 2011

Thomas Hunt Morgan

Thomas Hunt Morgan was born on September 25, 1866 in Lexington, Kentucky.  He was the eldest son of Charlton Hunt Morgan who served as the American Consul in Messina, Sicily in 1860, where he assisted Garibaldi during the uprising that started his campaign of that year.  He later joined the Confederate Army  was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh.  Morgan as a boy was interested in natural history and spent several summers in the mountains near Oakland, Maryland where he collected fossils.  When he grew older he spent his summers in the mountains of Kentucky doing geological and biological field work.  He graduated with a BS from the University of Kentucky in 1886.

Morgan received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1890.  After which he received the Bruce Fellowship which allowed him to study in Italy at the Marine Zoological Laboratory in Naples.  In 1891 Morgan was appointed associate professor (and head of the biology department) at Bryn Mawr University, where he stayed until 1904.  While at Bryn Mawr he met and married Lillian Vaughan Sampson, who would later contribute to his research.  In 1904 Edmund Wilson, who Morgan had replaced at Bryn Mawr, invited him to Columbia University where he was appointed professor of experimental biology.  He remained at Columbia until 1928 when moved to the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, California, where he was appointed professor of biology and director of the Kerckhoff Laboratories.  While at Caltech he established a marine laboratory at Corona Del Mar, California.  He remained at Caltech until 1945.

Morgan's research at Columbia, influenced by Wilson, looked at the role of cytology in influencing biological systems.  He worked with fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) to study genetics.  Although he was initially skeptical of the theories of Gregor Mendel, Morgan used fruit flies to show how certain traits are linked, that is the genes which are responsible for them are located on the same chromosome.  From his experiments he was able to make maps of the Drosophila chromosomes, showing the locations of various genes.  Drosophila have become a common model organism used for studying genetics.  For his work showing the importance of chromosomes in heredity Morgan was awarded the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.  Morgan was also interested in embryology and made important contributions to that field including demonstrating that gravity has no effect on a developing egg.

Other honors won by Morgan include membership in the National Academy of Sciences and foreign membership in the Royal Society.  In 1924 he was awarded the Royal Society's Darwin Medal and he has honorary degrees from Johns Hopkins and the University of Kentucky.

Morgan died on December 4, 1945.


Sturtevant, A. H. "Thomas Hunt Morgan: 1866-1945"; in Biographical Memiors; National Academy Press; 1959

Thomas H. Morgan Nobel Biography

Thomas Hunt Morgan Wikipedia Entry

Monday, September 19, 2011

Edwin Mattison McMillan

Edwin Mattison McMillan was born on September 17, 1907 in Redondo Beach, California.  His father Edwin McMillan was a physician.  As a child McMillan was always building gadgets and living in Pasadena, California he was able to attend lectures and get to know the physicists at the nearby California Institute of Technology.  After high school he attended the California Institute of Technology studying physics and chemistry and earning his B.Sc. in 1928 and his M.Sc. one year later.  He earned his Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1932.  His thesis described the behavior of a beam of hydrogen chloride molecules in a non-homogeneous electric field.

After earning his Ph.D., McMillan won a National Research Council fellowship.  At the invitation of Ernest Lawrence he went to the University of California at Berkley where he worked in Lawrence's Berkley Radiation Laboratory.  He became a an instructor in the physics department at Berkeley in 1935, assistant professor in 1936, associate professor in 1941, and professor in 1946.  During the World War II MacMillan worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developing radar, at the U.S. Navy Radar and Sonar Laboratory in San Diego California working on sonar, and he worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  He returned to Berkley after the war and with the death of Lawrence in 1958 he became director of the Berkley Radiation Laboratory, later renamed after Lawrence.  He remained director until his retirement in 1973.

McMillan is most remembered for his work in creating the first transuranic elements.  Working at Berkley he used the newly invented cyclotron to bombard uranium with neutrons and deuterium to create neptunium and plutonium.  These elements (atomic numbers 93 and 94) were the first elements created with more protons than uranium, which was thought to have the highest possible number.  Like uranium these elements are subject to radioactive decay.  McMillan and Glenn Seaborg, who finished MacMillan's work when he left Berkley to go to M.I.T., were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 for "their discoveries in the chemistry of transuranium elements".  McMillan also used the cyclotron to create other non-naturally occurring radioactive elements including oxygen-18 and beryllium-10.

Other honors won by MacMillan include election to the National Academy of Science in 1947 (he served as its chairman from 1968 to 1971), the Atoms for Peace award in 1963, shared with Vladimir Veksler, for the creation of the synchrotron, and the National Medal of Science in 1990. 

McMillan died on September 7, 1991.


Jackson, David J. and Panofsky, W.K.H.; "Edwin Mattison McMillan: 1907-1991"; Biographical Memoirs Vol. 69; National Academy Press; 1996

Edwin McMillan Nobel Biography

Edwin McMillan Wikipedia Entry

Monday, September 5, 2011

Stanford Moore

Stanford Moore was born on September 4, 1913 in Chicago, Illinois.  His father, Howard Moore, at the time was a law student at the University of Chicago.  His mother was a graduate of Stanford University, where his parents met.  It is alleged that this was the origin of Moore's first name.  Moore began school at age 4 at a progressive school in Winnetka, Illinois.  When he was six his father took a teaching position at the University of Florida Law School.  Later he took a position at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.  During these years Moore attended public schools.  When his father took a position at the Vanderbilt University Law School, where he remained until his retirement in 1949, Moore attended the Peabody Demonstration School, which was attached to the George Peabody College for Teachers.  Moore attended the school for seven years and was an outstanding student.

Moore attended Vanderbilt University and was initially torn between careers in chemistry and aeronautical engineering.  In his third year he was influenced by Arthur William Ingersoll, and took an interest in organic chemistry and molecular structure.  He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1935 with a BA in chemistry.  He also won the Founder's Medal as the outstanding student in his class.  Moore went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin where he worked for Karl Link and learned micro analytical techniques.  He graduated in 1938 with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.  His thesis project was a method for determining which monosacharides were in the polysacharides he was analyzing.  After graduation he took a job as a research assistant working for Max Bergman at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.  During World War II Moore worked for the Office of Scientific Research and Development researching therapeutic agents for mustard gas and other chemical warfare agents. 

After the war he returned to the Rockefeller Institute and worked with William H. Stein on chromatographic methods of determining the amino acid sequence of proteins.  Proteins are macromolecules composed of a sequence of amino acids bound together by peptide (amide) bonds.  Moore and Stein, worked with Christian Anfinsin of the National Institutes of Health, determining the sequence of ribonuclease, an small enzyme of only 124 amino acid residues.  From the determination of the sequence of the amino acids they were able to learn about the active site of the enzyme, where the chemical reaction takes place.  Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions, speeding up the biochemical reactions in living organisms.  For their work on the structure of ribonuclease Moore, Stein, and Anfinsen won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1972.

Other honors won by Moore include honorary doctorates from the University of Brussels and the University of Paris, the American Chemical Society award for Chromatography and Electrophoresis, shared with Stein, and the Richards Medal from the American Chemical Society.  Moore remained working at the Rockefeller Institute until his death.

Moore died on August 23, 1982.


Smith, Emil L. and Hirs, C.H.W.; "Stanford Moore: September 4, 1913 - August, 23, 1982"; Biographical Memoirs Vol. 56; National Academy Press; 1987

Stanford Moore Nobel Biography

Stanford Moore Wikipedia Entry