Scope and Content
Title: Robert L. Sinsheimer Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1952-1976
Sinsheimer, Robert L.
Extent: Number of containers: 9 boxes
Linear feet: 4
California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All
requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing
to the Head of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the
California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not
intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be
obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item, Box and file number], Robert L. Sinsheimer Papers, Archives,
California Institute of Technology.
Robert L. Sinsheimer was born the second of three brothers in Washington, D.C. in 1920,
but he grew up in Chicago. He was one of the first graduates of M.I.T.'s biophysics
undergraduate program in 1941. Sinsheimer stayed on for graduate study in biophysics,
earning his Ph.D. in 1948 after spending the war years (1942-45) as a researcher at
M.I.T.'s Radiation Laboratory. Due to the difficulty in finding a university position in
biophysics, Sinsheimer took a one-year postdoc at M.I.T. before accepting a faculty
position in the physics department at Iowa State College in 1949. He spent a six-month
sabbatical in 1953 at Caltech, working on genetics with Max Delbrück. Back at Iowa State,
Sinsheimer established his reputation as a biologist by isolating the important virus,
X 174, and developing procedures for its use to study genetics.
Sinsheimer accepted a faculty position at Caltech in 1957 and played a major part in
Caltech's 75th year symposium in 1966. He became Chair of the Division of Biological
Sciences in 1968, a position which he held until 1977. During his tenure as Chair,
Sinsheimer became involved in the public debate over recombinant DNA technology. In 1977,
he left Caltech in order to become Chancellor of the University of California, Santa
Cruz. He held this post until 1987, at which time he accepted a position as a professor
in the Department of Biological Sciences at UC, Santa Barbara. He became professor
emeritus in 1990.
Scope and Content
The Robert L. Sinsheimer Papers came to the Archives of the California Institute of
Technology in September 1977 as a gift from Dr. Sinsheimer. The Collection comprises
correspondence, materials relating to various scientific organizations and meetings, some
lecture notes, presentations, and a set of scientific reprints.
The bulk of the correspondence (arranged alphabetically) is concentrated in the years
1971-76. Most interesting in this period is correspondence relating to the recombinant
DNA controversy and to Dr. Sinsheimer's interest in questions concerning the ethics of
biomedical research. In addition, there is a small amount of correspondence regarding
Sinsheimer's colleague at Caltech, Alfred Sturtevant (c. 1961-71). Please note that the
finding aid only names Dr. Sinsheimer's most important correspondents and is not a
Very little of Dr. Sinsheimer's teaching or research activities is documented in the
collection. There is a set of notes relating to a course in radiation biology that
Sinsheimer taught while at the University of Iowa in the early 1950s. There is a lab
manual and some notes on laboratory procedures relating to Tobacco Mosaic Virus. Also
included are several talks on photochemistry and the effect of UV radiation on DNA.
The Sinsheimer papers contain some material relating to Dr. Sinsheimer's organizational
work in the biological community. Included are materials relating to a biophysics
conference in 1959, a genetic intervention meeting at Rockefeller University in 1966, and
position papers from the 1969 Health Planning Team of the National Institutes of Health.
Notes relating to the National Academy of Sciences from 1929-71 are also present.
The reprint collection contains papers and typescripts from 64 primary scientific
authors. The reprints are arranged alphabetically by author in the catalog and, a brief
title is presented for each item. There is also an incomplete collection of Phage
Information Service publications, which span the years 1952-66.