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Guide to the Papers of Norman Horowitz, 1940-1992
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Collections

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Norman H. Horowitz papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1940-1992
    Collection number: Consult repository
    Creator: Horowitz, Norman H.
    Extent: 9.5 linear ft.
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Archives.
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Abstract: The working papers, correspondence, manuscripts, and lectures of Norman Harold Horowitz form the collection known as the Papers of Norman Horowitz in the Archives of the California Institute of Technology. Horowitz was professor of biology at Caltech, and a pioneer in the fields of exobiology and biochemical genetics.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright may not have 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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item, box and file number], Papers of Norman Horowitz. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    Norman Horowitz donated his papers to the Archives at the California Institute of Technology in several installments between 1982 and 1992.


    Norman Harold Horowitz was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1915, the eldest of three boys, and the son of an émigré businessman and Bostonian mother. Raised in the middle-class neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, he attended public elementary and secondary schools, where at the latter he was made valedictorian.
    In 1932, Horowitz entered the University of Pittsburgh after securing a scholarship. There he majored in zoology, carrying out independent research as an undergraduate. From Pittsburgh, he moved to Pasadena and the California Institute of Technology in the autumn of 1936, where he worked with T.H. Morgan and Albert Tyler. Attending Caltech gave Horowitz the opportunity to spend weekends at the Institute's laboratory in Corona Del Mar and summers accompanying Morgan and Tyler to Woods Hole. It was at Woods Hole that Horowitz met his future wife, Pearl, in 1937.
    After receiving his Ph.D. in 1939, Horowitz accepted a fellowship to Douglas Whitaker's Stanford University laboratory. At Stanford he continued his research on the metabolism of embryos and became acquainted with George Beadle, who was working with Drosophila. He returned to Caltech to work in the laboratory of Henry Borsook, but after learning of Beadle's experiments with Neurospora, Horowitz joined Beadle's group in Stanford, working in Northern California until the group dissolved in 1946.
    Dr. Horowitz returned to Caltech with Beadle, where he joined the faculty and where he became a key player in the formation of biochemical genetics. In particular, Horowitz - with colleagues such as Howard Teas and Marguerite Fling - used mutants to demonstrate the soundness of the "one-gene, one-enzyme" theory and the ways in which mutants could be exploited for practical applications. His work on the evolution of biochemical synthesis remains an important contribution to the theory of organic evolution and the origin of life.
    Horowitz's attachment to the space program began shortly after the flight of Sputnik I in 1957. Soon thereafter, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that a major goal of their program would be the biological exploration of planets, and Horowitz took the opportunity to become involved in "exobiology," or the search for extra-terrestrial life. Working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena - and becoming chief of its bioscience section in 1965 - he helped design a number of instruments for the Mars Mariner and Viking missions, including "Gulliver" and the "pyrolytic release" experiments. His extensive work in this area eventually led him to the conclusion that Martian soil is "lifeless": indeed, by the time that he published his popular book, To Utopia and Back, (1986), Horowitz was "virtually certain that the earth is the only life-bearing planet in our region of the galaxy."
    Following his prominent work on the Mars Mariner and Viking programs, Horowitz returned to his laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. In the early 1980s, he published notable work on Siderophores, a type of chelating agent in fungi that helps the fungi to absorb iron. During the 1980s Horowitz became increasingly involved in several controversies, including the debates about evolution and creationism in schools.
    Currently, Dr. Horowitz is Professor Emeritus at Caltech, as well as a member of the
    National Academy of Sciences. He lives in Pasadena.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Comprising twenty-one boxes and nine-and-one-half linear feet, the collection encompasses most of Horowitz's distinguished career, including both his work in Caltech's biology lab and at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Indeed, a large percentage of the collection is devoted to Horowitz's involvement in the search for extra-terrestrial life and its accompanying problems. Yet, also included in the collection is material related to research, publishing, administrative duties, "think-tanks" and a diverse array of heated controversies in which Horowitz was involved.
    Series I, Horowitz's correspondence, encompasses approximately one-third of the collection. Ranging from the end of the Second World War to the early nineties, this section includes letters by six winners of the Nobel Prize: George Beadle, Francis Crick, Joshua Lederberg, Linus Pauling, Roger Sperry and James Watson. Notably, the collection includes extensive correspondence between Horowitz and Beadle, who won the 1958 Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events. There exists also extensive correspondence with Carl Sagan and other eminent scientists in the field of biochemical genetics, including David Bonner, Howard Teas, Marguerite Fling, John Fincham, and Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin.
    Although some correspondence is not directly connected to academia, most of these letters reflect Horowitz's different research passions in biochemical genetics throughout his career: Drosophila, Neurospora and Siderophores. Letters are arranged chronologically within the alphabetically ordered folders. Both incoming and outgoing correspondence - Horowitz made carbon copies of nearly every letter he sent - are filed together in tandem.
    Series II of the collection contains Horowitz's laboratory notebooks and research notes. The notebooks span four decades, although the majority of them cover his work on Neurospora and Drosophila in the 1940s and 1950s. Included in these books is Horowitz's work in Paris in 1954-55, while he was on sabbatical at the Laboratoire de Gènetique. Also housed in this section is work and correspondence related to Siderophores.
    Many of Horowitz's manuscripts, journal offprints and lecture notes are found in the collection's third series. It reveals the diversity in Horowitz's interests and the broad range of his talents as researcher and writer - the problem with creationism, biochemical genetics, the search for extra-terrestrial life, inter-planetary flight and reconstructing the origin of life. Included also within this section is correspondence between Horowitz and various publishers.
    Series IV, "Exobiology and Space Exploration," encapsulates Horowitz's important contributions to the space program. Contained in this section is extensive material on the design and implementation of several instruments for detecting extra-terrestrial life, the principal work in which Horowitz was involved during his years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For instance, the collection contains much material - proposals, budgets, specifications, photographs and the like - relating to "Gulliver," a radioisotopic biochemical probe, and the "pyrolytic release" instrument, a Viking experiment which used radiation detectors to "sniff" for the presence Martian life.
    Also contained in this section is much of Horowitz's committee work, including his involvement in the Western Panel on Extra-terrestrial Life (WESTEX), the Space Science Board (SSB), the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and Richard Nixon's 1968-69 Task Force. Moreover, the section houses much correspondence related to space exploration. For instance, the bulk of the correspondence between Horowitz and Carl Sagan, as well as between Horowitz and Joshua Lederberg, is housed in this section. Noteworthy, too, are the exchanges between Horowitz and Gilbert Levin, with whom Horowitz discussed the labeled-release experiment and who was later ridiculed for his espousal of Martian life.
    Series V contains material that relates directly to the California Institute of Technology. Amongst the papers are course materials, undergraduate and graduate examinations, and letters of recommendation for Horowitz's students. Also included in this section are documents - committee minutes, memos, correspondence and reports - concerning broader university issues, notably the relationship between Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
    Series VI of the Horowitz collection encompasses some of the debates in which Horowitz was involved, as well as his contributions to important symposiums and committees. Relatively early in life, Horowitz developed a distaste for organized religion, and this distaste was reinforced throughout his career. Partially for this reason, and partially because of his work on the origin of life, he became an active opponent of the teaching of creationism in schools: much material chronicling his involvement in the anti-creationism campaign is contained in this section and complements other material in the collection, notably his manuscripts "Towards the Nature of Life" and "What's Wrong with Creationism," which are housed in Series III.
    Some of Horowitz's other deep-seated convictions surface in this section: this is particularly the case when he deals with the thorny issue of genetics, "race" and intelligence, and with what he considers the fanciful theorizing of his longtime friend and colleague, Roger Sperry. Moreover, with his involvement with science in the Soviet Union and the stateside Committee on Science and Public Policy, Horowitz's attempts to balance the ineluctable force of scientific method with compassion and civility, not to mention his sense of a global scientific community in the midst of a Cold War, emerge. Yet, to varying degrees, all these aspects of Horowitz's personality are reflected throughout the entire collection.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.
    Horowitz, Norman H.
    California Institute of Technology
    Space Biology

    Related Collections

    • Biology Divisional Records
    • Papers of George W. Beadle
    • James Bonner, Norman Horowitz, Sterling Emerson, and Donald Poulson Oral History with Judith Goodstein, Harriet Lyle, and Mary Terrall (1981)
    • Norman Horowitz Oral History with Rachel Prud'homme (1987)