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Salk Institute

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Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is an independent, non-profit, scientific research institute located in La Jolla, California.[1] It was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine; among the founding consultants were Jacob Bronowski and Francis Crick. Building did not start until spring of 1962. The institute consistently ranks among the top institutions in the US in terms of research output and quality in the life sciences.[2] In 2004, the Times Higher Education Supplement ranked Salk as the world's top biomedicine research institute,[3] and in 2009 it was ranked number one globally by ScienceWatch in the neuroscience and behavior areas.[4]

The institute employs 850 researchers in 60 research groups and focuses its research in three areas: Molecular Biology and Genetics; Neurosciences; and Plant Biology. Research topics include cancer, diabetes, birth defects, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, AIDS, and the neurobiology of American Sign Language. The March of Dimes provided the initial funding and continues to support the institute. Current research is funded by a variety of organizations, such as the NIH, the HHMI and private organizations such as Paris-based Ipsen[5] and the Waitt Family Foundation. In addition, the internally administered Innovation Grants Program encourages cutting-edge high-risk research.[6] The institute appointed genome biologist Eric Lander and stem cell biologist Irving Weissman as non-resident fellows in November 2009.[7]

The campus was designed by Louis Kahn. Salk had sought to make a beautiful campus in order to draw the best researchers in the world. Salk and Kahn having both descended from Russian Jewish parents that had immigrated to the United States had a deeper connection than just mere partners on an architectural project. The results of their connection is seen in the design that resulted from their collaboration. The original buildings of the Salk Institute were designated as a historical landmark in 1991. The entire 27-acre (11 ha) site was deemed eligible by the California Historical Resources Commission in 2006 for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nobel laureates

The institute has three Nobel laureates on its faculty: Elizabeth Blackburn, Sydney Brenner, and Roger Guillemin. Three of Salk's Nobel laureates are now deceased: Francis Crick, Robert W. Holley, and Renato Dulbecco. Another five scientists trained at Salk have gone on to win Nobel prizes.[8]

Scientific activities

The institute is organized into several research units, each of which is further composed of several scientific groups, each led by a member of the faculty. Some of these units are:

  • Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
  • Regulatory Biology Laboratory
  • Structural Biology Laboratory
  • Gene Expression Laboratory
  • Laboratory of Genetics
  • Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory
  • Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory
  • Systems Neurobiology Laboratories
  • Computational Neurobiology Laboratory
  • Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory
  • Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory
  • Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Laboratory
  • The Renato Dulbecco Laboratories for Cancer Research

The institute is currently led by Dr William Brody, who assumed charge from interim President Roger Guillemin on 1 March 2009. There are 59 faculty members (assistant, associate and full professor level). Eight of these are members of the HHMI while more than a quarter[9] are members of the NAS.

In terms of research output measured by number of publications and citations, the institute is recognized as one of the world's leading institutions in several areas of biology, but especially so in neurosciences and plant biology.[10][11][12]

In December 2009, the Time magazine ranked Joe Ecker's mapping of the human epigenome as the #2 biggest scientific achievement of 2009.[13]

In May 2008, California announced that it would provide 270 million US dollars for funding CIRM, a joint effort between Salk Institute, UCSD, Burnham Institute and TSRI.[14]


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360° panorama in the courtyard of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California.

The institute is housed in a complex designed by the firm of Louis Kahn. Michael Duff of the Kahn firm was the supervising architect and a major design influence on the structure that consists of two symmetric buildings with a stream of water flowing in the middle of a courtyard that separates the two. In the beginning the buildings were made up of different kinds of cement mixes. Kahn wanted to see what kind of mixture would best work as well as look the best. Each mixture had a different color. In the basement of the complex, there are different colored cement walls because Kahn was experimenting with the mixtures. Kahn lso added wood to the complex. ah wanted the wood n the cement to complement each other. The buildings themselves have been designed to promote collaboration, and thus there are no walls separating laboratories on any floor. There is one floor in the basement, and two above it on both sides. The lighting fixtures have been designed to easily slide along rails on the roof, in tune with the collaborative and open philosophy of the Salk Institute's science. At first Kahn wanted t put a garden in the middle of the two buildings. As construction continued, Kahn did not know what shape it should take. Kahn saw an exhibit of Luis Barragan's work at the Museum of Modern At in New York. Kahn invited Baragan to collaborate on the court, that separated the two buildings. Barragan told Kahn that he should not add one leafe nor plant,not one flower, nor dirt. Instead to make it a plaza. According to A. Perez, the concrete was made with volcanic ash relying on the basis of ancient Roman concrete making techniques, and as a result gives off a warm, pinkish glow. The basement also houses the transgenic core. Each laboratory block has five study towers, with each tower containing four offices, except for those near the entrance to the court, which only contain two. A diagonal wall allows each of the thirty-six scientists using the studies to have a view of the Pacific, and every study is fitted with a combination of operable sliding and fixed glass panels in teak wood frames. Originally the design also included living quarters and a conference building, but they were never actually built.

Most of the laboratories and studies are named after the benefactors, such as the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology[15] and the Razavi Newman Center for Bioinformatics.[16] A library that houses current periodicals, some books and computers is located on the 3rd level of the west end of the North building.[17] The Frederic de Hoffmann auditorium and the Trustees' Room are located in the basement of the east buildings of the institute.

In the courtyard is a citrus grove containing several orderly rows of lime trees. The original grove contained orange and kumquat trees which were then replaced with lime trees in the 1995 grove refurbishment. Plans are currently underway to substitute semi-dwarf Valencia oranges. This replacement is due primarily to a need to remove current trees for structural repairs and water-proofing of central plant ceilings. The trees will be mulched and used for ground cover in compliance with project commitments to sustainability. The decision not to replant additional lime trees stems from dissatisfaction with the manner in which the current trees defoliate and turn yellow in the shade. The Valencia compensates for shade by producing additional chlorophyll in shaded sections, becoming greener.


The Salk Institute’s open environment teeming with empty space is symbolic of an open environment for creation, the symmetry stands for scientific precision, and submerging crevasses allow warm, natural light to enter the buildings like the intellectual light that leads to discovery. The contrast between balance and dynamic space manifests a pluralistic invitation for scientific study in structures developed to accommodate their respective functions as parts of a research facility. Although modern in appearance, it is essentially an isolated compound for individual and collaborative study not unlike monasteries as sanctuaries for religious discovery, and they directly influenced Kahn in his design. Ultimately, the Salk Institute’s meaning transcends function and physical place as a reflection of Western Civilization’s pursuit of truth through science instead of God: it is Louis Kahn’s masterpiece reinterpretation of the monastic “intellectual retreat” in our day and age.


Salk and Kahn approached the city of San Diego in March 1960 about a gift of land on the Torrey Pines Mesa and were granted their request after a referendum in June 1960. Construction began in 1962 and a handful of researchers moved into the first laboratory in 1963. Additional buildings housing more laboratories as well as the organizational administrative offices were constructed in the 1990s, designed by Anshen & Allen.

As a memorial to Jonas Salk, a golden engraving lies on the floor at the entrance to the institute: "Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality."

Francis Crick held the post of J.W. Kieckhefer Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. His later research centered on theoretical neurobiology and attempts to advance the scientific study of human consciousness. He remained in this post at the Salk Institute until his death in 2004.

Training program

Although the Salk Institute is not a degree-granting institution, it runs a graduate program together with the neighboring UCSD, and all Salk Institute professors receive adjunct appointments in the Division of Biological Sciences at UCSD. In addition, several faculty members are affiliated with other programs such as the Neuroscience Graduate Program and the Cellular and Molecular Medicine.[18] The students pursue either a Ph.D. or an M.D/Ph.D. degree.

In addition, the institute employs postdoctoral scholars and staff scientists who receive training for academic leadership.


William R. Brody is the President of the Salk Institute since 1 March 2009. Irwin M. Jacobs is Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Joanne Chory is the chair of the academic council.

50th Anniversary Celebration

From 22–27 April 2010, the Salk Institute hosted glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly to celebrate 50 years of its inception.[19] The event was underwritten by Irwin Jacobs, chairman of the board of trustees.

Distinguished faculty

See also


Wiseman, Carter. Louis I. Kahn: Beyond Time and Style. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.

External links

  • Photos of Salk Institute
  • CNN: Study reverses male infertility in mice
  • San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine news release
  • Salk Institute Cancer Center at
  • Professor Chris Lamb - Daily Telegraph obituary

32°53′14″N 117°14′46″W / 32.887151°N 117.246212°W / 32.887151; -117.246212Coordinates: 32°53′14″N 117°14′46″W / 32.887151°N 117.246212°W / 32.887151; -117.246212

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