Robert Pollack (biologist)

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Robert Pollack
CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma materColumbia College BA in Physics (1961), Brandeis University PhD (1966)
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University

Robert Pollack is an American biologist whose interests cross many academic lines. He grew up in Brooklyn, attended public schools, and majored in physics at Columbia University, where he graduated from the College in 1961. He received a PhD in Biological Sciences from Brandeis University in 1966, and subsequently was a postdoctoral Fellow in Pathology with Howard Green at NYU Medical center, and at the Weizmann Institute in Israel with Ernest Winocour. He was then recruited to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory by James Watson to establish a research program on reversion of cancer cells. He became a tenured Associate Professor of Microbiology at SUNY Stony Brook Medical Center before returning to Columbia as a Professor of Biological Sciences in 1978. He served as Dean of Columbia College from 1982 to 1989, overseeing the enrollment of women in the College for the first time. 

He remains at Columbia as a Professor of Biological Sciences, and also serves as Director of The University Seminars; he is the fifth Director since its founding in 1944.  He is also a member of the Affiliate Faculty of the American Studies Program. From 1999-2012, he was the Director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion, a program within Columbia’s Earth Institute. In 2014 his interest in questions that lie at the intersection of science and subjectivity, coupled with the gift of an endowment from College alumnus Harvey Krueger ’51, led him to establish the Research Cluster on Science and Subjectivity, a project within Columbia’s Center for Science and Society. 

In addition to these activities, Pollack has authored many research reports, reviews, articles, and opinion pieces on molecular biology, medical ethics and science education as well as writing or editing ten books, including Signs of Life: the Language and Meanings of DNA (1994), which won the Lionel Trilling Award and has been translated into six languages, The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith: Order, meaning and free will in modern science (2000), and The Missing Moment: How the unconscious shapes modern science (2001). His most recent book is The Course of Nature, a book of drawings by the artist Amy Pollack, accompanied by his short explanatory essays. 

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Preceded by
Arnold Collery
Dean of Columbia College
1982 – 1989
Succeeded by
Jack Greenberg