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Guide to the Gunther S. Stent Papers, 1915-1998
BANC MSS 99/149 z  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Biographical Timeline
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Gunther S. Stent Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1915-1998
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 99/149 z
    Creator: Stent, Gunther S.
    Extent: Number of containers: 65 cartons, 10 tubes, 3 oversize folders Linear feet: 92.5
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research, with the following exception: Box 1 sealed until 2020.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has been assigned in part to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Gunther S. Stent Papers, BANC MSS 99/149 z, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Photographs have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library
      Identifier/Call Number: (BANC PIC 1997.079).
    • Sound recordings have been transferred to the Microforms Collection of The Bancroft Library: computer discs
      Identifier/Call Number: (BANC COMPU/F 16)
      and one audiograph, Phonodisc 739.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Gunther S. Stent Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Gunther S. Stent on August 12, 1996. Additions were made on November 6, 1997, February 9 and July 8, 1998, and July 21, 1999.


    The majority of the funding for this project was provided as a gift from an anonymous donor.

    Biographical Note

    Gunther S. Stent was born in 1924 in Treptow, a suburb of Berlin, where his father owned one of the largest bronze statuary and light-fixture factories in Germany. After the Kristallnacht, he escaped from Germany, traveling first to England, and then to the United States. He graduated in 1942 from Hyde Park High School in Chicago. He received a B.S. in 1945, and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry in 1948, both from the University of Illinois. He joined the University of California, Berkeley faculty as an Assistant Research Biochemist in 1953.
    His scientific career was influenced by Max Delbrück, a quantum physicist who had trained with Neils Bohr. Delbrück was one of several physicists who had crossed over into biology in hopes of discovering new laws of physics and chemistry. Stent joined Delbrück's laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in 1948 as a Merck Fellow. He became an enthusiastic member of what became known as the Phage Group, whose members pioneered the study of bacterial genetics and a new understanding of fundamental biological processes. In 1950-1951, he worked at the University of Copenhagen and the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he collaborated with other ground-breaking scientists of his generation, many of whom later became Nobel Laureates.
    Stent's book, Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology (1966, 1992), chronicles the 30-year period prior to the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. Stent himself has made significant contributions in three areas: molecular biology, neurobiology, and the history and philosophy of science. Among his writings on molecular biology, his textbook Molecular Genetics: An Introductory Narrative (1970, 1978), is regarded as a classic. As a neurobiologist, he published over 100 articles on leech neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, and edited Function and Formation of Neural Systems (1977), and The Neurobiology of the Leech (1981). Stent's writings in the history and philosophy of science, which attracted both a professional and popular readership, include "What they are saying about Honest Jim" (1968), an essay inspired by James D. Watson's publication of The Double Helix; and the widely discussed "Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery" (1972), among others.
    With James D. Watson, Stent edited A Critical Edition of the Double Helix (1980), which appended a variety of articles and reviews by his colleagues that discussed Watson's controversial account of his discovery. Stent dedicated several books to his mentor, Max Delbrück, including The Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses (1963), and Mind from Matter : An Evolutionary Epistemology (1986) . The latter, which Stent edited and published after Delbrück's death in 1981, is a collection of his lectures delivered at the California Institute of Technology. In 1998, Stent published an autobiographical memoir entitled Nazis, Women and Molecular Biology, which centers on his early years in the United States and his return to post-war Germany in 1946-1947.
    During Stent's long tenure at the University of California, Berkeley, he played an instrumental role in the process of shaping and developing new departments and programs, leading to the establishment of the Department of Virology in 1957, and the Department of Molecular Biology in 1963. From 1980 to 1986, he was the Director of the Virus Laboratory and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology. From 1987-1992, he served as founding Chair of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. While at Berkeley, he mentored several generations of molecular biologists and neurobiologists.

    Biographical Timeline

    1924 Born March 24, Berlin, Germany
    1940 Arrives in United States
    1945 B.S., University of Illinois
    1946-1947 Document Analyst, Field Information Agency, Technical (Office of Military Government for Germany [U.S.])
    1948 Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry, University of Illinois
    1948-1950 National Research Council, Merck Fellow at California Institute of Technology
    1950-1952 National Research Council and American Cancer Society Fellow at the University of Copenhagen and at the Pasteur Institute, Paris
    1951 Marries Inga Loftsdottir
    1952 Joins staff of Wendell M. Stanley's Virus Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, as Assistant Research Biochemist
    ca. 1953 Joins Graduate Group in Microbiology
    1956 Promoted to Associate Professor of Bacteriology
    1958 Joins Graduate Group in Genetics
    1959 Promoted to Professor of Molecular Biology
    1959-1964 Member of Genetics Study Section, National Institutes of Health
    1960-1961 National Science Foundation, Senior Fellow at Virus Research Institute, Kyoto University and at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University
    1963 Publishes The Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses
    1966 Chairman of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Neurobiology
      Publishes Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology, with James D. Watson and John Cairns, in honor of Max Delbrück's 60th birthday
    1966 Appointed external member of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany
    1968 Elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    1969-1970 Guggenheim Fellow at Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School
    1969 Publishes The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress
    1970 Publishes textbook, Molecular Genetics, An Introductory Narrative
    1972 Chairman of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Neurobiology
    1975-1993 Member of Basic Research Advisory Committee, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
    1977 Publishes Paradoxes of Progress
      Publishes A Critical Edition of J. D. Watson's The Double Helix
    1980-1986 Chairman of Molecular Biology and Director of the Virus Laboratory
    1981 Publishes Neurobiology of the Leech, co-edited with K. J. Muller and J. C. Nicholls
      Publishes Shinri to Satori; Kagaku no Keiji-Jogaku to Toyo (Truth and Spiritual Awakening; Metaphysics of Science and Oriental Philosophy)
    1981-1983 Chairman of Joint UCB-UCSF Governing Board, Health and Medical Sciences Program
    1982 Elected member of the National Academy of Sciences
    1982-1985 Member of Committee on Space Biology and Medicine, Space Sciences Board
    1984 Elected member of the American Philosophical Society
    1985-1989 Advisory Board, Dahlem Konferenzen, Berlin
    1985-1990 Fellow of Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
    1986 Co-chair of University of California, Berkeley-University of California, San Francisco Joint Medical Program
    1986-1989 Chair, Neurobiology Section of the National Academy of Sciences
    1987-1992 Founding Chair, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
    1989-1996 Features Editor, Journal of Neuroscience
    1990-1991 Fogarty Scholar-in-Residence, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
    1994 Professor Emeritus of Neurobiology and Professor in the Graduate School
    1998 Publishes autobiographical memoir, Nazis, Women and Molecular Biology

    Scope and Content

    The Gunther S. Stent Papers reflect the varied functions of Stent's life as a research scientist, teacher, mentor, administrator, editor, and author. His career spanned a period of profound changes in the life sciences, and his eclectic interests encompassed not only science, but history and philosophy as well. His papers richly document the process of scientific and scholarly collaboration in the developing field of molecular biology, and later in neurobiology. He was acquainted with virtually everyone in his field, and his papers include correspondence and manuscripts from many of the leading scientists of the 20th Century, including Werner Arber, Francis Crick, Max Delbrück, D. Carleton Gajdusek, Alfred Day Hershey, François Jacob, Niels Kaj Jerne, André Lwoff, S. E. Luria, Jacques Monod, and James D. Watson, to name only a few.
    Stent's papers demonstrate the foresight with which he preserved a wide range of documents, which give clear evidence of his professional activities and private concerns. One particularly rich series is his correspondence. Stent's out-going correspondence is distinguished by a clear and elegant epistolary style. In addition to Stent's main correspondence files, found in Series 1, there is more correspondence filed throughout the collection. For example, correspondence associated with a book or an article is usually filed with that book or article in Series 2, the Publications series. The collection also contains a representative sampling of manuscripts which were not published.
    Not present in his papers are Stent's lecture notes, many of which were incorporated into chapters of his published textbooks. The absence of systematic documentation of his teaching materials is partly offset by his collection of 57 hand-drawn instructional wall charts. Some charts have figure numbers matching illustrations in the second edition of his textbook, Molecular Genetics (1978). The charts were used and modified year after year. Also missing from the Stent Papers are his laboratory notes, except for those written early in his career, between 1948 and 1952, when he held fellowships abroad.
    Smaller series include University of California Departments and Committees, Professional Activities and Organizations, and Personalia. The final series, Reprints by Others, is an extensive and valuable collection of scholarly papers authored by Stent's colleagues, collaborators and correspondents. The collected reprints are noteworthy for their breadth as well as their depth. When taken in aggregate, they provide an overview of molecular biology research being done internationally in the middle decades of the 20th Century.