Lily E. Kay

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Lily E. Kay (1947 – December 18, 2000) received a Ph.D. in the history of science from the Johns Hopkins University in 1987, and was a recipient of a Smithsonian Fellowship at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. in 1984. She was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in bibliography at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and has taught at the University of Chicago. From 1989 to 1997 she was an assistant professor of history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Born in Kraków, Poland in 1947 to concentration camp survivors, Dr. Kay moved with her parents to Israel and then came to the United States in 1960. After she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1969, she taught high school physics in Pittsburgh and was a research associate in biochemistry at the University of Pittsburgh from 1974-77. In 1977 she became a senior research assistant at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, working on the molecular biology of viruses. She earned a PhD in the history of science from Johns Hopkins University in 1986.

After two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, she joined the history of science faculty at the University of Chicago, and in 1989 she began an eight-year stint on MIT's faculty in The Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), which had just established a new Ph.D. program. In recent years, she worked as an independent scholar, with guest appointments at Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

When she died, Dr. Kay was working on a book on the MIT neuroscientist Warren McCulloch and the fields of research he helped spawn: serial computing, artificial intelligence and models of brain function.


  • Kay, Lily E. (2000). Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3384-8. 
  • Kay, Lily E. (1993). The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505812-7. 

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