Delbrück in the early 1940s
|Born||Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück
September 4, 1906
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||March 9, 1981
Pasadena, California, United States
|Known for||Phage group|
Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück, ForMemRS (September 4, 1906 – March 9, 1981) was a German–American biophysicist. He won the Nobel prize for discovering that bacteria become resistant to viruses (phages) as a result of genetic mutations.
Early and personal life 
Delbrück was born in Berlin, German Empire. His father was Hans Delbrück, a professor of history at the University of Berlin, and his mother was the granddaughter of Justus von Liebig, eminent chemist.
In 1941, he married Mary Bruce, with whom he had four children. Delbrück's brother Justus Delbrück, a lawyer, his sister Emmi Bonhoeffer, and his brothers-in-law Klaus Bonhoeffer and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both executed in the final days of Hitler's Germany, participated in the German Resistance against the Nazi Regime.
Education and early career 
Delbrück studied astrophysics, shifting towards theoretical physics, at the University of Göttingen. Having earned a Ph.D. in 1930, he traveled through England, Denmark, and Switzerland. He met Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr, who interested him in biology.
Delbrück returned to Berlin in 1932 as an assistant to Lise Meitner, who was collaborating with Otto Hahn on irradiation of uranium with neutrons. Delbrück wrote a few papers, including one in 1933 on gamma rays' scattering by a Coulomb field's polarization of a vacuum. His conclusion was theoretically sound but inapplicable to the case in point, though 20 years later Hans Bethe confirmed the phenomenon and named it "Delbrück scattering".
In 1937, he attained a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to research genetics of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, in California Institute of Technology's biology department. While at Caltech, Delbrück researched bacteria and their viruses (bacteriophages or phages). In 1939, with E.L. Ellis, he co-authored a paper, "The growth of bacteriophage", reporting that the viruses reproduce in one step, not exponentially as do cellular organisms.
Role in biology research 
Delbrück remained in the US during World War II (1939–45), teaching physics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, while continuing genetic research. In 1942, he and Salvador Luria of Indiana University demonstrated that bacterial resistance to virus infection is mediated by random mutation. This research, known as the Luria-Delbrück experiment, notably applied mathematics to make quantitative predictions, and earned them the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared with Alfred Hershey. Also that year, Delbrück and Luria were awarded by Columbia University the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize.
In 1945, Delbrück developed a course in bacteriophage genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York. Delbrück's promotion of this "Phage Group"—which explored genetics through researches on bacterial viruses—spurred molecular biology's early development. In 1947, Delbrück returned to Caltech as a professor of biology. From the 1950s on, he applied biophysical methods to problems in sensory physiology rather than to genetics. Meanwhile, he set up University of Cologne's institute for molecular genetics.
Later life and legacy 
Delbrück was influential in the 20th century's movement of physical scientists into biology. His inferences on genes' susceptibility to mutation was relied on by physicist Erwin Schrödinger in his 1944 book What Is Life?, which conjectured genes were an "aperiodic crystal" storing codescript and influenced Francis Crick and James D. Watson in their 1953 identification of cellular DNA's molecular structure as a double helix. In 1977, he retired from Caltech, yet remained Professor of Biology emeritus.
Max Delbrück died, at age 74, on the evening of Monday, 9 March 1981, at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California. On 26 to 27 August 2006—the year Delbrück would have turned 100—family and friends gathered at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to reminisce on his life and work. Although Delbrück supported research reductionism, he conjectured that ultimately a paradox—akin perhaps to the waveparticle duality of physics—would be revealed about life.
See also 
- Luria-Delbrück experiment
- Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
- Max Delbruck Prize, formally known as the biological physics prize, awarded by the American Physical Society
- Saffman–Delbrück model
- Hayes, W. (1982). "Max Ludwig Henning Delbruck. 4 September 1906-10 March 1981". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 28: 58–26. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1982.0003. JSTOR 769892. PMID 11639973.
- Hayes W. Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück—September 4, 1906-March 10, 1981. Biogr Mem Natl Acad Sci. 1992;62:67-117.
- "MDC celebrates centennial of Max Delbrück". Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine Berli-Buch. 4 Sep 2006.
- Lagemann RT. "Max Delbrück at Vanderbilt", pp 165-93, in Lagemann RT & Holladay WG, To Quarks and Quasars: A History of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University (Vanderbilt University Dept Physics & Astronomy, 2000).
- Watson JD. "James D. Watson: Chancellor emeritus". Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. 2012.
- Max Delbrück and the Next 100 Years of Biology: The Max Delbrück Vanderbilt Centenary Celebration, The Inaugural Vanderbilt Discovery Lecture, Held September 14, 2006
- Dronamraju KR. "Erwin Schrödinger and the origins of molecular biology". Genetics. 1999 Nov;153(3):1071-6.
- Murphy MP & O'Neill LAJ. What Is Life? the Next Fifty Years: Speculations on the Future of Biology (Cambridge University Press, 1997). p 2.
- Freeland Judson, The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1996), ISBN 0-87969-478-5.
- Haslinger, Kiryn. Max Delbruck 100. HT Winter 2007.
- Horowitz NH. "Review of Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology". Biophys J. 1994 Mar;66(3 Pt 1):929–30.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Max Delbrück|
- Ton van Helvoort (1992). "The controversy between John H. Northrop and Max Delbrück on the formation of bacteriophage: Bacterial synthesis or autonomous multiplication?". Annals of Science 49 (6): 545–575. doi:10.1080/00033799200200451. PMID 11616207.
- Lily E. Kay (1985). "Conceptual models and analytical tools: The biology of physicist Max Delbrück". Journal of the History of Biology 18 (2): 207–246. doi:10.1007/BF00120110. PMID 11611706.
- Daniel J. McKaughan (2005). "The Influence of Niels Bohr on Max Delbrück". Isis 96 (4): 507–529. doi:10.1086/498591. PMID 16536153.
- Nobel prize webpage
- Delbrück page at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory website.
- Letter from Jim Watson – Delbrück was instrumental in getting fellowship support for Watson so that he could stay in Cambridge, play tennis, and discover the rules of nucleotide base pairing in DNA. This is a letter from Watson to Delbrück that describes the discovery.
- Interview with Max Delbrück Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives, Pasadena, California.
- Caltech Photo Archives of Max Delbrück
- The Official Site of Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
- Key Participants: Max Delbrück – Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA: A Documentary History
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir