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Rockefeller University

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The Rockefeller University
Rockefeller University seal.svg
Former names
The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (1901–1958)
The Rockefeller Institute (1958–1965)
MottoScientia pro bono humani generis
Motto in English
Science for the benefit of humanity
TypePrivate, Graduate
Established1901; 121 years ago (1901)
FounderJohn D. Rockefeller[1]
Endowment$2.32 billion (2020)[2]
PresidentRichard P. Lifton
Academic staff
Location, ,
United States

40°45′45″N 73°57′20″W / 40.76250°N 73.95556°W / 40.76250; -73.95556Coordinates: 40°45′45″N 73°57′20″W / 40.76250°N 73.95556°W / 40.76250; -73.95556
CampusUrban, 16 acres[5]
Main gates on York Avenue

The Rockefeller University is a private graduate university in New York City. It focuses primarily on the biological and medical sciences and provides doctoral and postdoctoral education. It is classified among "R2: Doctoral Universities – High research activity".[6] Rockefeller is the oldest biomedical research institute in the United States. The 82-person faculty (tenured and tenure-track, as of 2018) has 37 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, seven Lasker Award recipients, and five Nobel laureates. As of October 2020, a total of 38 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with Rockefeller University.

The university is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, between 63rd and 68th streets on York Avenue. Richard P. Lifton became the university's eleventh president on September 1, 2016. The Rockefeller University Press publishes the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the Journal of Cell Biology, and The Journal of General Physiology.


Founder's Hall
The FDR Drive runs under the campus

The Rockefeller University was founded in June 1901 as The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research—often called simply The Rockefeller Institute—by John D. Rockefeller, who had founded the University of Chicago in 1889, upon advice by his adviser Frederick T. Gates[1] and action taken in March 1901 by his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr.[7] Greatly elevating the prestige of American science and medicine, it was America's first biomedical institute, like France's Pasteur Institute (1888) and Germany's Robert Koch Institute (1891).[1] The Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization, founded in 1913, is a separate entity, but had close connections mediated by prominent figures holding dual positions.[8]

The first director of laboratories was Simon Flexner, who supervised the development of research capacity at the Institute, whose staff made major discoveries in basic research and medicine. While a student at Johns Hopkins University, Flexner had studied under the Institute's first scientific director, William H. Welch, first dean of Hopkins' medical school and known as the dean of American medicine.[7] Flexner retired in 1935 and was succeeded by Herbert Gasser.[9] He was succeeded in 1953 by Detlev Bronk, who broadened The Rockefeller Institute into a university that began awarding the PhD degree in 1954.[7] In 1965 The Rockefeller Institute's name was changed to The Rockefeller University.[7]

For its first six decades, the Institute focused on basic research to develop basic science, on applied research as biomedical engineering, and, since 1910—when The Rockefeller Hospital opened on its campus as America's first facility for clinical research—on clinical science.[10] The Rockefeller Hospital's first director Rufus Cole retired in 1937 and was succeeded by Thomas Milton Rivers.[11] As director of The Rockefeller Institute's virology laboratory, he established virology as an independent field apart from bacteriology.

Rockefeller family

Rockefeller Sr, urged by Rockefeller Jr, his only son, who was enthusiastic about the Institute, visited the University once.[1]: 475  Rockefeller Jr's youngest son David would visit with his father.[12] David Rockefeller joined the board of trustees in 1940, was its chairman from 1950 to 1975, chaired the board's executive committee from 1975 to 1995, became honorary chairman and life trustee,[13] and remained active as a philanthropist until his death.[12]

Institutional changes

The Rockefeller Institute Hospital name was changed to Rockefeller University Hospital and Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research to Rockefeller University during the "more than sixty years" in which Rockefeller included "the last surviving member of a Manhattan scientific team that overturned medical dogma in the 1940's and became the first to demonstrate that genes were made of DNA."[14][15]


The archives of Rockefeller University are at the Rockefeller Archive Center, established in 1974 as part of the university and organized as an independent foundation since 2008.[16]

Organization and administration


  • More than 80 heads of laboratories
  • 200 research and clinical scientists
  • 350 postdoctoral investigators
  • 1,050 clinicians, technicians, administrative and support staff

To foster an interdisciplinary atmosphere among its laboratories, faculty members are grouped into one or more of ten interconnecting research areas:[17][18]

  • biochemistry, biophysics, chemical biology, and structural biology
  • cancer biology
  • cell biology
  • genetics and genomics
  • immunology, virology, and microbiology
  • mechanisms of human disease
  • neurosciences and behavior
  • organismal biology and evolution
  • physical, mathematical, and computational biology
  • stem cells, development, regeneration, and aging


Academic rankings
ARWU[19] 26
ARWU[20] 43
U.S. News & World Report[21] 62

Graduate degree programs

Rockefeller University admitted its first graduate students in 1955.[22] Today, approximately 250 graduate students are enrolled in the program, which offers doctoral degrees in the biomedical sciences, chemistry, and biophysics.[23] The university's organization on the basis of laboratories rather than a hierarchical departmental structure[24] extends to the graduate program, where laboratory research is the primary focus and students can meet degree requirements by participating in any combination of courses.[23] In partnership with neighboring Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine, Rockefeller participates in the Tri-Institutional MD–PhD Program as well as a Tri-Institutional chemical biology Ph.D. program.[25]


The university is classified among "R-2: Doctoral Universities – High Research Activity".[6] Faculty and researchers at Rockefeller have a history of research breakthroughs including:

  • First to culture the infectious agent associated with syphilis[26]
  • Showed that viruses can be oncogenic, and enabled the field of tumor biology[27]
  • Development of tissue culture techniques[28]
  • Discovery of the dendritic cell, the sentinel of the immune system
  • Identification of a genetic defect associated with atherosclerosis, the leading cause of heart attacks in the U.S.
  • Development of solid phase peptide synthesis
  • Development of the practice of travel vaccination[29]
  • Pioneered the physiology and chemistry of vision
  • Located genes regulating the sleep/wake cycle
  • Identified the phenomenon of autoimmune disease[30]
  • Developed virology as an independent field[31]
  • Developed the first peptide antibiotic[32]
  • Obtained the first American isolation of influenzavirus A and first isolation of influenzavirus B[33]
  • Showed that genes are structurally composed of DNA,[34] discovered blood groups, resolved that virus particles are protein crystals[35]
  • Resolved antibody structure, developed methadone treatment of heroin addiction, devised the AIDS "drug cocktail", and identified the appetite-regulating hormone leptin[36]

Campus and student life

Founder’s Hall was the first building on Rockefeller’s campus, built between 1903 and 1906.[37] It housed the nation's first major biomedical research laboratory and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.[38] Caspary Auditorium, a 40-foot-high, 90-foot round geodesic dome, was built in 1957 and hosts a variety of concert series and lectures.[39] The completion of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation–David Rockefeller River Campus in 2019, built along the East River over FDR Drive, added two acres to Rockefeller’s footprint.[40] Rockefeller’s campus houses a childcare center for researchers and other university employees.[41]

Graduate students are offered subsidized housing on campus and receive an annual stipend.[23] Student groups include People at Rockefeller Identifying as Sexual/Gender Minorities (PRISM), Women in Science at Rockefeller (WISeR), and the Science and Education Policy Association (SEPA).[42] The student-run publication Natural Selections is produced monthly.[43]

Promotion of women in science and outreach activities

The Rockefeller University established a Women in Science initiative in 1998 to address the underrepresentation of women in the field.[44] It is founded mainly by female philanthropists.[45] The program includes scholarships and an entrepreneurship found to help increase the low number of female researchers that commercialize their discoveries.[46] In 2004 Rockefeller's professor Paul Greengard donated the full amount of his Nobel Prize to establish the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize given annually to a woman scientist in the field of biology.

Rockefeller also host diverse initiatives to promote science and culture: Parents & Science Initiative,[47] The RockEDU Science Outreach for K-12 students and teachers [48] that includes lab experience and professional development and The Lewis Thomas Prize for writing about science is given annually.

In addition, Rockefeller hosts the Peggy Rockefeller Concerts[49] and in collaboration with Cornell University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center it hosts the Tri-Institutional Noon concert Series.

In 2012, Rockefeller began participating in Open House New York's OHNY Weekend.[50]

Notable people

Nobel laureates

Year Nobel Laureate Prize Rockefeller Affiliation
2020 Charles M. Rice Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
2020 Emmanuelle Charpentier Chemistry Postdoctoral fellow before prize awarded
2017 Michael W. Young Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
2016 Yoshinori Ohsumi Physiology or Medicine Postdoctoral fellow before prize awarded
2011 Ralph Steinman Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
2011 Bruce Beutler Physiology or Medicine Postdoctoral fellow before prize awarded
2003 Roderick MacKinnon Chemistry Faculty when prize awarded
2001 Paul Nurse Physiology or Medicine President and faculty after prize awarded
2000 Paul Greengard Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
1999 Günter Blobel Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
1984 R. Bruce Merrifield Chemistry Faculty when prize awarded
1981 Torsten Wiesel Physiology or Medicine President and faculty after prize awarded
1975 David Baltimore Physiology or Medicine Alumnus; President after prize awarded
1974 Albert Claude Physiology or Medicine Faculty before prize awarded
1974 Christian de Duve Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
1974 George E. Palade Physiology or Medicine Faculty before prize awarded
1972 Stanford Moore Chemistry Faculty when prize awarded
1972 William H. Stein Chemistry Faculty when prize awarded
1972 Gerald M. Edelman Physiology or Medicine Alumnus; Faculty when prize awarded
1967 H. Keffer Hartline Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
1966 Peyton Rous Physiology or Medicine Emeritus faculty when prize awarded
1958 Joshua Lederberg Physiology or Medicine President and then faculty after prize awarded
1958 Edward L. Tatum Physiology or Medicine Faculty when prize awarded
1953 Fritz Lipmann Physiology or Medicine Rockefeller fellow before and faculty after prize awarded
1946 John H. Northrop Chemistry Member when prize awarded
1946 Wendell M. Stanley Chemistry Member when prize awarded
1944 Herbert S. Gasser Physiology or Medicine Director when prize awarded
1930 Karl Landsteiner Physiology or Medicine Member when prize awarded
1912 Alexis Carrel Physiology or Medicine Member when prize awarded

Award affiliations taken from "The Rockefeller University » Nobel Laureates". Retrieved March 17, 2016.


There are more than 1,262 alumni.[51]

Individual affiliates

Notable figures to emerge from the institution include Alexis Carrel, Peyton Rous, Hideyo Noguchi, Thomas Milton Rivers, Richard Shope, Thomas Francis Jr, Oswald T. Avery, Frederick Griffith, Colin MacLeod, Maclyn McCarty, Rebecca Lancefield, Wendell Meredith Stanley, René Dubos, Ashton Carter, and Cornelius P. Rhoads. Others attained eminence before being drawn to the university. Joshua Lederberg, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958, served as president of the university from 1978 to 1990.[52] Paul Nurse, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001, was president from 2003 to 2010.[53] (Before Nurse's tenure, Thomas Sakmar was acting-president from 2002.[54]) In all, as of October 2020, 38 Nobel Prize recipients have been associated with the University. In the mid-1970s, the University attracted a few prominent academicians in the humanities, such as Saul Kripke.


Dr. Reginald Archibald, an endocrinologist at the university from 1948 to 1982, allegedly abused dozens or hundreds of boys during his time at the University while studying growth problems in children, including molestation and photographing them naked.[55][56][57] Officials at Rockefeller University knew of the legitimacy of the claims for years before notifying the public.[56] The university and hospital issued a statement confirming that Archibald had "engaged in certain inappropriate conduct during patient examinations" and that they "deeply regret[ted]" any "pain and suffering" the former patients felt.[55] New York State passed a law known as the Child Victims Act, which created a one-year window for civil suits brought by former child victims, allowing them to make cases against the university.[57]


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External links