Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is an independent, non-profit, scientific research institute located in the La Jolla community in San Diego, 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 aging,[5] 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[6] and the Waitt Family Foundation. In addition, the internally administered Innovation Grants Program encourages cutting-edge high-risk research.[7] In 2017 the Salk Institute Trustees elected former president of Booz Allen Hamilton, Daniel C. Lewis as Board Chairman.[8]

The institute also served as the basis for Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar's 1979 book Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts.[9]

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 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 two Nobel laureates on its faculty: Elizabeth Blackburn and Roger Guillemin. Four of Salk's 11 Nobel laureates are now deceased: Francis Crick, Robert W. Holley, Renato Dulbecco, and Sydney Brenner. Another five scientists trained at Salk have gone on to win Nobel prizes.[10]

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

Rusty Gage was named to a five-year term to lead the Institute on January 1, 2019.[11] Jan Karlseder is the chair of the academic council.[12] There are 53 faculty members. Five of these are members of the HHMI, and more than a quarter[13] are elected 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, especially in neurosciences and plant biology.[14][15][16]

In December 2009, the Time magazine ranked Joseph R. Ecker's mapping of the human epigenome as the #2 biggest scientific achievement of 2009.[17]

In May 2008, California announced that it would provide 270 million US dollars for funding CIRM. The Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, a joint effort between Salk Institute, UCSD, Burnham Institute and TSRI, received $43 million from this funding.[18][19]


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. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known today as the March of Dimes, provided the initial funding.[20] 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. 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.

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.[21] The event was underwritten by Irwin Jacobs, chairman of the board of trustees.

They had some controversy about gender discrimination.[22][23]


The institute is housed in a complex designed by the firm of Louis Kahn. Jack MacAllister, FAIA, 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 travertine-paved central plaza that separates the two.[24][25][26] In the beginning the buildings were made up of different kinds of concrete 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 concrete walls because Kahn was experimenting with the mixtures. Kahn also added teak wood to the complex. Kahn wanted the teak and the concrete 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. Inside the laboratories the ducts and vents are reinforced by concrete Vierendeel trusses supported by post-tensioned columns.[27] The authorities at the time were very cautious due to the fact that they felt these trusses would not be able to hold in case of an earthquake, but in a tour de force of structural design, the engineer was able to achieve twice the ductility that a steel frame could offer.[27] At first Kahn wanted to put a garden in the middle of the two buildings but, as construction continued, he did not know what shape it should take. When he saw an exhibit of Luis Barragan's work at the Museum of Modern Art 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 leaf, nor plant, not one flower, nor dirt, instead, make it a plaza with a single water feature. The resulting space is considered the most impressive element of the entire design.

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. This "pozzolanic" concrete was then only vibrated as needed structurally, leaving a lightly textured wall face. 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[28] and the Razavi Newman Center for Bioinformatics.[29] A library that houses current periodicals, some books and computers is located on the 3rd level of the west end of the North building.[30] The Conrad T. Prebys 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 semi-dwarf Valencia orange trees. This grove replaces the original grove which contained orange and kumquat trees which were then replaced with lime trees in the 1995 grove refurbishment. This latest replacement was due primarily to a need to remove current trees for structural repairs and waterproofing of central plant ceilings. The trees were 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 replete 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 are thought to have directly influenced Kahn in his design. Ultimately, the Salk Institute's meaning can be interpreted as transcending function and physical place as a reflection of Western civilization's pursuit of truth through science.

In 2014, the Getty Conservation Institute partnered with the Salk Institute to preserve the concrete and teak building which is, due to its coastal location, subject to the punishing rigors of a marine environment.[25]

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.[31] 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.

Notable faculty


See also


  1. "Salk Institute for Biological Studies". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-01-06. Retrieved 2009-03-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Search | Times Higher Education (THE)". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  4. "04.26.2009 - Institution Rankings in Neuroscience & Behavior, 1998–2008". 2009-04-26. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  5. "The Paul F. Glenn Center for Research on Aging - Overview".
  6. "Ipsen, Salk Institute ink research pact". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  7. "InsideSalk - 11|07 Issue Innovation Grants Program Infuses Cutting-Edge Projects with Start-Up Funds". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  8. "Salk Institute Trustees elect Daniel C. Lewis as Board Chairman". Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  9. "Laboratory Life". Princeton University Press. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  10. "About - Salk Institute for Biological Studies". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  11. "Salk President Rusty Gage named to new five-year term to lead Institute". Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  12. "Salk Institute - Academic Council". Salk Institute. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  13. "Salk scientist Thomas Albright elected to National Academy of Sciences - Salk Institute for Biological Studies". 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2009-03-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. Rubin, Gerald M (2006), "Janelia Farm: An Experiment in Scientific Culture", Cell, 125 (2): 209–12, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2006.04.005, PMID 16630805
  16. "Current Comments" (PDF). December 3, 1990. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  17. Harrell, Eben (8 December 2009). "The Top 10 Everything Of 2009". Time.
  18. Pollack, Andrew (8 May 2008). "$271 Million for Research on Stem Cells in California". The New York Times.
  19. "Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine | About Us". Archived from the original on 2016-11-01. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  20. "History of Salk - Salk Institute for Biological Studies". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  21. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-04. Retrieved 2010-04-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. Pickett, Mallory (2019-04-18). "I Want What My Male Colleague Has, and That Will Cost a Few Million Dollars". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  23. WadmanNov. 21, Meredith; 2018; Pm, 3:00 (2018-11-20). "Salk Institute settles last of three gender discrimination lawsuits". Science | AAAS. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  24. "Jack MacAllister Archives". AIACC. 2014-04-24. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  25. Jessica Gelt (August 25, 2014), Getty team launches conservation study of Kahn's Salk Institute Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Los Angeles Times.
  26. "Insights: Jack MacAllister, FAIA". (video). Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  27. Weston, Richard (2004). Key buildings of the twentieth century: plans, sections, and elevations. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-393-73145-3.
  28. "Sloan-Swartz". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  29. "Salk Bioinformatics".
  30. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2007-12-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. "Academic Training - Salk Institute for Biological Studies". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  32. "Ronald M. Evans, PhD". Retrieved 2016-10-18.


  • Wiseman, Carter. Louis I. Kahn: Beyond Time and Style. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, ISBN 978-0393731651

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