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Guide to the Robert L. Sinsheimer Papers, 1952-1976
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Robert L. Sinsheimer Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1952-1976
    Creator: Sinsheimer, Robert L.
    Extent: Number of containers: 9 boxes

    Linear feet: 4
    Repository: California Institute of Technology. Archives.
    Pasadena, California 91125
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item, Box and file number], Robert L. Sinsheimer Papers, Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Biographical Sketch

    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 complete list.
    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.