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Walter Gilbert Collection

Identifier: WAG

Scope and Content

The Walter Gilbert Collection at CSHL Library and Archives is composed of material accrued by Gilbert as a student (Sidwell Friends School, Harvard University, Cambridge University), professor (Harvard University), and as a pioneering entrepreneur in the field of biotechnology (Biogen). The collection includes course notebooks, lecture notes and teaching files, scientific papers, correspondence, photographs, memorabilia, clippings, and material related to receiving the Nobel Prize.

The material has been divided into eight series:

  1. Coursework, 1948-1957
  2. Teaching and Lecture Files, 1959-2004
  3. Biogen, 1978-1981
  4. Scientific Papers, 1949-2005
  5. Clippings, 1948-2005
  6. Correspondence, 1954-2005
  7. Scientific Fraud, 1989, 1993
  8. Memorabilia and Ephemera, 1946-2011

See below for detailed descriptions and inventories of each individual series.


  • Creation: 1946 - 2011


Language of Materials

Bulk of materials in English

Access Restrictions

Some restrictions apply, see Archivist for details. Access is given only by appointment, 8:00a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Use Restriction

Archival materials must remain in the archival reading area. Item duplication is to be done by archivists. Fees are applied to copies made. Digital photography is permitted by users. Due to the very fragile nature of some materials in this collection, some are available through photocopies; others must be used under the supervision of an archivist.


Walter Gilbert was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 21, 1932 to Richard Gilbert, a Harvard University economist, and Emma Cohen, a child psychologist. In 1939 his family moved to Washington D.C., where he attended public schools and later the Sidwell Friends School. Gilbert developed an early interest in science; he ground mirrors for his own telescope, joined scientific clubs, and in 1949 was awarded a Westinghouse Science Scholarship by the Science Clubs of America Talent Search. In addition to his scientific pursuits, Gilbert wrote poetry, prose, and plays, and would go on to study philosophy and Chinese while an undergraduate.

In 1949 he graduated from Sidwell Friends School and pursued his scientific interests at Harvard University, studying chemistry and physics. He was awarded numerous scholarships, was elected to the Harvard Chapter of the Society of Sigma Xi, and graduated with a degree in physics in 1953. He then went on to attend Cambridge University (Trinity College) in England, aided by a National Science Foundation fellowship. At Cambridge his thesis advisor was future Nobel laureate Abdus Salam, and in 1957 he graduated with a PhD in mathematics. After graduation he returned to the United States and married Celia Stone, a poet he met while attending Sidwell Friends School.

In 1958 Gilbert joined the faculty at Harvard as a lecturer in physics, and in 1959 he was appointed assistant professor of physics. In the early 1960s he became interested in messenger RNA and worked with James D. Watson on experiments to isolate the nucleic acid. From this point on Gilbert’s scientific career would be primarily focused on molecular biology; his first paper on messenger RNA appeared in Nature in 1961, while his last paper on physics would be published in 1964. In 1964 he was appointed associate professor of biophysics, and in 1968 he was promoted to professor of biophysics.

Beginning in the mid-1960s he began investigating why different cells produce different proteins (even though they have identical DNA), and with Benno Müller-Hill he isolated the lac repressor gene in Escherichia coli, which prevented the production of certain enzymes except when lactose is present in the cell. This confirmed an earlier theory, proposed by Jacques Monod and François Jacob, that repressor genes regulate the process of protein synthesis in the cell. He then went on to develop a pioneering method for determining the sequence of nucleotides in a nucleic acid (Frederick Sanger independently developed the same method). For this work he was awarded the 1979 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University (with Sanger), the 1979 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (with Sanger and Roger Wolcott Sperry), and finally the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (with Sanger and Paul Berg).

In 1978 he cofounded, with other prominent biologists and businessmen, Biogen, one of the earliest biotechnology companies. He left Harvard to run the company in 1982. In 1985 he resigned as chairman and CEO of Biogen and returned to Harvard to conduct research. In 1987 he was appointed Carl M. Loeb University Professor at the university. In 1992 he founded the biotechnology company Myriad Genetics, and would go to serve on the advisory board of numerous other biotech firms.

He is married to Celia Stone, and has two children.


46 Boxes : 21.25 Linear Feet


The Walter Gilbert Collection documents the scientific career of Nobel Prize winning scientist Walter “Wally” Gilbert. It includes material accrued while a student (Sidwell Friends School, Harvard University, Cambridge University), professor (Harvard University), and as a pioneering entrepreneur in the field of biotechnology (Biogen). The collection includes course notebooks, lecture notes and teaching files, scientific papers, correspondence, photographs, memorabilia, clippings, and material related to receiving the Nobel Prize.

Arrangement Note

Material from the first accession was received in an unorganized state with no obvious arrangement. Like material was grouped together by the processing archivist to assist researchers. Material generally arrived in unlabeled folders or binders, or was simply loose in the shipping box. As such, the majority of folder titles used in the finding aid were created by the processing archivist to best describe the material therein. Gilbert’s titles were retained when available and are noted on the front flap of the folder.

The second accession contained two well organized groups of material: a series of Gilbert’s reprints and a collection of correspondence, filed in bulk by date (1985-2005). The original order of this material has been retained. Original folder titles were also retained.

Folder level date ranges are generally reflective of the material within. Excessive duplicate material was weeded from the collection during processing. Each series is arranged chronologically and sometimes divided into subgroups. See each series description for more details


The collection was donated by Walter Gilbert in three separate accessions: May 2011, accession number 2011-019. June 2011, accession number 2011-035. January 2012, accession number 2012-002, consisted of three books documenting Gilbert's art exhibitions.

Related Collections

The Harvard University Archives houses additional Gilbert material.

Related materials concerning Walter Gilbert include the Horace Freeland Judson Collection, 1968-1978, and the Walter Goad Papers, 1942-2000, at the American Philosophical Society.

For more information on Biogen, please see the Charles Weissman Biogen Collection.

Walter Gilbert Collection
Finding Aid Prepared by John Zarrillo.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives Repository

Library & Archives
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
One Bungtown Rd
Cold Spring Harbor NY 11724 USA