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Kaplan (Nathan O.) Papers
MSS 0099  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Access

  • Descriptive Summary

    Languages: English
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla 92093-0175
    Title: Nathan O. Kaplan Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0099
    Physical Description: 18.4 Linear feet (46 archives boxes, 8 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1943-1986
    Abstract: Papers of Nathan Oram Kaplan, university administrator and eminent biochemist affiliated with Brandeis University, where he developed that university's graduate program in biology during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and subsequently with the University of California, San Diego, where he served as a member of the chemistry department and, after 1980, as associate director of the UCSD Cancer Center. After 1970, Kaplan's research was primarily focused on chemotherapy, particularly the relationship between different cancers and the blood levels of lactate dehydrogenase; the cultivation of nude mice; and human interferon. Kaplan's papers contain correspondence, photographs, subject files, manuscripts, and reprints covering the years 1943-1986. The bulk of the collection documents Kaplan's affiliations with Brandeis University and UCSD. However, the collection contains a small amount of materials documenting research activities prior to his appointment at Brandeis and a larger amount documenting his extra-mural professional activities.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Kaplan Papers consist of personal documents, photographs, correspondence, personnel and subject files, teaching and research materials, manuscripts, and reprints. The collection focuses on Nathan Kaplan's professional career and does not include family records or personal memorabilia. The papers provide comprehensive documentation of Kaplan's years at the University of California, San Diego (1968-1986). His roles as an academic, an administrator, and a scientist are well-represented, especially across the Conferences series, Correspondence series, and University of California, San Diego subseries. Manuscript files (contained in the Writings series) indicate growth and change in Kaplan's research interests; some folders include raw data from laboratory experiments, as well as substantive analytical revisions made in response to reviewers' comments and queries. Neither laboratory notebooks nor systematic records of Kaplan's own experiments are part of this collection. There are no records related to his research at Massachusetts General Hospital or at the McCollum-Pratt Institute.
    Coverage of Kaplan's career prior to his arrival at UCSD is largely limited to laboratory reports by some of his students at Brandeis, early reprints, and personnel files. Some of the undated lecture notes contained in the Subject Files may have been written before 1968, and some of the manuscript files also predate the UCSD years. Arranged in seven series: 1) Biographical Files, 2) Brandeis University, 3) Conferences and Meetings, 4) Correspondence, 5) Subject Files, 6) Writings, and 7) Writings of Others.
    This series contains miscellaneous biographical information including appointment books, association memberships, awards, condolences, and photographs.
    Most of the material in the series postdates Kaplan's tenure at Brandeis. An important exception is the student rotation papers. At Kaplan's suggestion (based on his experience at McCollum-Pratt), Brandeis biochemistry graduate students were required to carry out six different research projects, of six-weeks' duration each in six different laboratories, during their first year. These "rotations" were an integral part of the curriculum.
    This series documents Kaplan's attendance at various conferences, meetings, symposia, lectures, etc. Note, however, that meetings of special committees within larger organizations such as UCSD are not included in this series, but do appear in the the UCSD subseries of the Subject Files.
    Kaplan did not attend all of the meetings for which there are named files; his absence, where it could be clearly established, has been indicated in the folder description. The contents of individual folders vary considerably. Some contain agenda, brochures with lists of participants, session topics, etc., correspondence, drafts of lectures, itineraries, and materials distributed at the meetings. As a body, these files provide strong evidence of Kaplan's involvement in biochemistry at local, national, and international levels.
    This series contains two subseries, 4A. Outgoing and 4B. Incoming. In the first subseries, correspondence is arranged chronologically. In the second, files are arranged alphabetically by the name of the correspondent or the organization with which the correspondent was affilitated. This series includes Kaplan laboratory files and staff correspondence as well as personal correspondence. Although all of the files in the series contain correspondence, many contain memos, reports, and proposals, as well.
    The correspondence in this collection is primarily outgoing; most, but not all, of these letters were sent over Kaplan's signature. Exceptions are administrative letters generated by secretarial staff and more substantive correspondence written by research staff during Kaplan's sabbaticals. These files also consist of copies of letters sent over the signatures of individual laboratory staff and/or junior members of the chemistry department and cover subjects such as job interviews, grant applications, requests for chemicals, and experimental results.
    The incoming correspondence subseries includes correspondence with Ephraim Katchalski, former President of Israel, and Martin Kamen, a world renowned chemist. A few of the correspondents with whom Kaplan had the most communication, as evidenced in the bulk of these files, are George Czerlinski, Gregory (Chi-Yu) and Norman Oppenheimer.
    Three subseries make up the subject files series; 5A. Miscellaneous, 5B. Travel, and 5C. University of California, San Diego. In the first of these subseries, folders are arranged alphabetically. In addition to general topics, the first subseries includes areas of special interest to Kaplan, namely, biochemical anthropology, interferon research and the Kaman symposium. This subseries also documents Kaplan's involvement in a number of organizations and professional societies of which he was an active member. The American Chemical Society is a significant example. Kaplan chaired the ACS' Division of Biological Sciences in the early 1980s; his files include correspondence, internal memos, meeting minutes, and reports. He was similarly active in the American Society of Biological Chemists. A long-time member of the National Academy of Sciences, Kaplan undertook, within the Office of Biochemical Nomenclature, herculean efforts to reduce the confusion in terminology that arose in scientific publications as new enzymes and chemical compounds were discovered and created. Some of the individual personalities and emotions involved in standardizing terms are evident in the NAS nomenclature file. Finally, Kaplan's stature in the field of biochemistry is evident in the site visit files which are part of the entries for the following institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and Wichita State University.
    The arrangement of the Travel subseries is chronological. Nearly all of the trips abroad represented by these files were undertaken during sabbatical leaves. Individual folders contain a mixture of pre- and post-travel correspondence that is mainly administrative, but some letters discuss research interests. Handwritten notes Kaplan took while visiting the Institute of Biochemistry in Shanghai also included in this subseries.
    The third subseries, University of California, San Diego is arranged alphabetically. Among the important records in this series are the UCSD files for the athymic mouse facility, the chemistry department, the cancer center, the Kaplan laboratory, and the medical school.
    The UCSD subseries documents the growth of Kaplan and Gordon Sato's project to develop a colony of nude mice, beginning with early efforts to raise money, through the colony's eventual incorporation into the cancer center, is documented in the athymic mouse facility chronological administrative and general files. Specific files, such as the 1984 site visit and the users of nude mice, are also significant. Because so much of the research Kaplan and his group conducted focused on cancer, and because the tumors grown in the athymic mice were crucial to that research, references to the mouse colony also appear in the cancer center files (see especially the administrative and committee files) and in the Kaplan laboratory records. The cancer center files offer a sense of that institution's organizational dynamics, including John Mendelsohn's leading administrative role.
    Kaplan's contributions to the UCSD chemistry department, particularly his interest in and commitment to teaching, are amply covered in the chemistry department files. Course outlines, lecture schedules, and handouts provide a clear sense of what material was presented and by whom. The Cell Biology and Biochemistry (CBB) course, an innovative effort to introduce basic science concepts to a mixed undergraduate and graduate population (including medical students), is well-represented in this collection. Some of the tensions between chemists and biochemists, between the chemistry and biology departments, and between the campus departments and the medical school are apparent from internal memos in the chemistry department administrative files, from discussions in the faculty council minutes, and from the debates over physical space assignments.
    Among the Kaplan laboratory records, grants and proposals are a good sources of information regarding the kinds of research conducted by Kaplan and others in his laboratory. The medical school files document some of the struggles between the campus basic science departments and the medical school regarding the former's role in educating first and second-year medical students (see especially the ad hoc committee on basic science teaching, 1972). In addition, Kaplan's involvement in medical school committees, courses, and reviews is demonstrated by these files.
    There are two subseries in this series of Kaplan's writings: 6A. Chronological, and 6B. Undated. This file includes reprints and manuscripts of Kaplan's written works, both published and unpublished. Some of these files contain correspondence (typically with publishing staff but sometimes with coauthors and reviewers) as well as drafts. Note that as the principal investigator for a number of large and long-lived grants, Kaplan could potentially appear as co-author on papers written by anyone connected with his laboratory. As a matter of courtesy, postdocs in particular usually name the principal investigator as a co-author. Thus, not all of the papers collected here represent areas in which Kaplan was directly involved.
    The arrangement of this series is alphabetical. Kaplan kept files of many of the manuscripts written by his students and postdocs. He was frequently asked by former students to communicate their papers to professional journals. He also kept records of papers submitted to journals by members of his laboratory. In most cases, he read and commented on these manuscripts and took an active interest in their fate. Thus, these files contain correspondence along with the manuscripts.


    Nathan Oram Kaplan was born in New York City on June 25, 1917. He earned his B.A. in chemistry at UCLA in 1939 and his Ph.D. in biochemistry at UCB in 1943. His career as a biochemist focused on enzymology and chemotherapy. He was active in research and academic administration, first at Brandeis University and then at UCSD. He died in San Diego on April 15, 1986.
    As a graduate student, Kaplan worked under David Greenberg in the Biochemistry Division of the UCB medical school, studying carbohydrate metabolism in the liver. His study of enzymes was interrupted by his work as a research chemist on the Manhattan Project (1942-1944), followed by a year as an instructor at Wayne State University. He continued his study of liver extracts, focusing on coenzyme A, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1945 as a research associate to Fritz Lipmann. He left in 1949 to become an assistant professor at the University of Illinois's College of Medicine.
    In 1950, Kaplan accepted a position at the McCollum-Pratt Institute at Johns Hopkins University after Sidney Colowick insisted Kaplan's appointment be a condition of Colowick accepting the directorship for the Institute. Kaplan remained on the biology faculty of the Institute until 1957, when Brandeis University hired him to start a graduate biochemistry department. Kaplan recruited several former colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital to Brandeis's new department.
    He stayed at Brandeis until 1968, when he moved to UCSD chemistry department, having been recruited by Martin Kamen. Kaplan had known Kamen during his graduate days at Berkeley and had himself recruited Kamen to Brandeis University.
    During the 1970s Kaplan focused his research on chemotherapy. He is credited with having discovered the relationship between different types of cancer and the amount of lactate dehydrogenase, or LDH, in the blood. With Gordon Sato, Kaplan founded a nude mouse colony at UCSD's NIH-funded Cancer Center, producing experimental specimens for cancer studies across the country. (Nude mice have no thymus and thus no immune system for rejecting tumors, making them valuable specimens for the study of tumor growth.) At the time of his death, Kaplan was studying human interferon and the cellular processes of malignancy.
    In 1980, Kaplan became associate director of UCSD's Cancer Center. He also served on several administrative committees related to education in the medical sciences, both in the medical school and in relation to the biology and chemistry departments. Off campus, Kaplan served as an advisor and as a consultant to the American Cancer Society, the University of Chicago, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Research Council's Committee on Coenzymes.
    Among his honors, Kaplan shared the Sugar Research Award in 1946 for work on phosphorolysis and synthesis of sucrose and the Nutrition Award in 1948 for work on Coenzyme A. He was presented the American Chemical Society's Award in Biological Chemistry in 1953 for work on the metabolic significance of vitamins. Kaplan was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 1970.
    With Sidney Colowick, he founded and edited the book series METHODS IN ENZYMOLOGY, and he co-edited the journal ANALYTICAL BIOCHEMISTRY. Kaplan was also on the editorial advisory board of many other biochemistry journals: MOLECULAR PHARMACOLOGY, BIOCHEMICAL GENETICS, and BIOCHEMICAL MEDICINE.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Preferred Citation

    Nathan O. Kaplan Papers, MSS 99. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 1986, 1987.


    In accordance with federal and state laws, student and personnel records contained in this collection are restricted until 2061.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Biochemists -- Biography -- Archives
    Nude mouse
    Chemistry -- Research
    Cancer -- Research
    Photographic prints -- 20th century
    Kaplan, Nathan O. (Nathan Oram), 1917-1986 -- Archives
    University of California, San Diego. Athymic Mouse Facility
    University of California, San Diego. Theodore Gildred Cancer Facility
    University of California, San Diego -- Faculty
    University of California, San Diego. Department of Chemistry