NIH News Release
National Library of Medicine

Monday, July 3, 2000

Contact: Robert Mehnert
Kathy Cravedi
(301) 496-6308

National Library Of Medicine Exhibit Features Nobelist Joshua Lederberg
Displayed Items Include Nobel Medal and Artifacts from a Rich Scientific Career

Dr. Joshua Lederberg, who won a Nobel prize at 33, always knew he wanted to be a scientist. At age seven he succinctly expressed this desire in a short essay in smudged blue ink on school-lined paper: "I would like to be a scientist of mathematics like Einstein. I would study science and discover a few theories of science."

This piece of early writing can be seen at a small exhibit at the National Library of Medicine on the life and work of Joshua Lederberg. The exhibit coincides with his 75th birthday. Other items on display include pages from a lab notebook, Lederberg's high school microscope, his Nobel medal and diploma, letters, newspaper clippings, and photographs. The exhibit will be up through November 30.

Although Lederberg chose the biological sciences over mathematics, he never wavered in his commitment or desire to be a scientist. During World War II he wrote to a friend, "...the laboratory is more than just a dull place where you wash test tubes. There, and not on the dance floor, drill field, or battleground I'm at my best." The dance floor's loss was science's gain. Lederberg won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958 for his research showing that bacteria can reproduce through sexual recombination and that their genetic material can be manipulated by bacterial viruses.

After winning the Nobel Prize, Lederberg became an increasingly public scientist, as the documents in the exhibit show. A letter from President John F. Kennedy thanks Lederberg for his participation on Kennedy's White House transition team. Lederberg also wrote over 200 editorials on bioethics, environmental hazards, emerging infectious diseases, and biological warfare. Dr. Walter Hickel, who curated the exhibit, says, "in combining pioneering research in genetics and computer science with political commitment in areas like environmental protection and arms control, Lederberg has bridged the gap between science and society."

Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg, NLM Director, stated, "Joshua Lederberg is a seminal figure in the world of molecular biology and he has deservedly earned the sobriquet, 'father of molecular genetics.'" Dr. Lederberg, who is a Sackler Foundation Scholar at The Rockefeller University in New York City, was appointed to a four-year term on the National Library of Medicine's Board of Regents in 1998. He chairs the Board's Research and Development Subcommittee.

As announced last year, an electronic version of many of Lederberg's papers are featured in Profiles in Science, (, the Library's web site devoted to great biomedical scientists in the 20th century. There you will find some 3,000 documents, including notebooks, manuscripts, personal correspondence with other scientists, diary entries, newspaper clippings, video interviews, and photographs. New images are added regularly to this site. Other scientists represented in Profiles in Science are Oswald T. Avery, Julius Axelrod, and Martin Rodbell.

The National Library of Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health, is the world's largest library of the health sciences. It is located at 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland, close to the Medical Center stop on Metro's Red Line. The Library is open weekdays week from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. After Labor Day the Library will also be open Thursday evenings till 9:00 p.m.

Note to editors: A photograph of Dr. Lederberg in his University of Wisconsin laboratory (1958) may be requested by e-mail from