Inside Salk - June 2008 - page 9

stairs that lead up to the Institute’s central courtyard.
Construction began in 1962 on land donated by the City of
San Diego. The following year, Suzanne andMel got married
and along with the other resident fellows, set up their laboratories
in temporary buildings, wooden structures which they lovingly
called “the barracks.” They moved into the permanent facility in
1966, and almost half a century later, the temporary buildings
still house laboratories.
For the past two years, Bourgeois has dedicatedmost of her
time unearthing information that could shine light on the beginnings
of the Institute. She’s combed through the papers of Szilard and
Crick at the UCSD library and was granted permission by Salk’s sons
to peruse their father’s documents.
“I’ve known the sons of Jonas Salk since they were teenagers and
they have been very generous and supportive,” she says. “I’ve also
poked around the entire building, the pipe spaces, basements, off-
site storage facilities, everywhere.”
At one point during her search, she discovered several filing
cabinets, some of which were marked “trash.” After taking a closer
look, she realized she had struck gold. Filed away in the old cabinets
were Salk Institute’s early archives, which she saved from nearly
being destroyed.
“It’s a great source of information that is available nowhere else,”
she says. “I’ve known everybody involved and it’s essential to have
this documented chronicle and the view of an insider. It’s important
to do this while we still have a chance,” says Bourgeois.
Roger Guillemin, interim president of the Salk Institute, agrees:
“The enormous commitment of time and research combined with her
unique perspective as one of the last surviving witnesses assures that
Suzanne’s personal account will provide a fascinating insight into the
history of the Institute from the very beginning.”
Bourgeois is working by herself and organizing the vast amount of
information she gathered takes time, though. “It’s like a huge puzzle
and now I have to put all these pieces together,” she says.
polio has been told and retoldmany times. But when a flood of new
books hit the shelves in 2005 to celebrate the 50
anniversary of
the Salk polio vaccine,
Suzanne Bourgeois
was struck by something
they all had in common.
“All these books said little or nothing about the Salk Institute
and left one wondering what had happened to Jonas Salk
subsequently,” she says.
“Jonas Salk should be recognized for two major achievements:
One is the polio vaccine and the other is the Salk Institute,” says
Bourgeois, a professor and founder of the Regulatory Biology
Laboratory, whose own life history is inseparably entwined with the
Institute and reaches back to a time when the Salk Institute was a
mere dream in the minds of a handful of scientists.
When it became clear to her that the Salk Institute’s history was
being overlooked, Bourgeois decided to tell the story that had never
been told. Drawing from a unique combination of personal
experience, painstaking research and a treasure trove of diaries, she
is in the midst of writing a book about the extraordinary events and
people that created the Salk Institute.
She has been fascinated with its history since the beginning –
keeping pamphlets, booklets and a diary since her mid-20s.
“I think I’m probably the only one who has daily
records of what happened,” she says.
A native of Belgium, Bourgeois went to Paris in
1961 to work in Jacques Monod’s laboratory at the
Pasteur Institute. Melvin Cohn, a professor at
Stanford University and his friend Edwin Lennox, a
professor at New York University, arrived inMonod’s
lab around the same time. Bourgeois recalls
Ed andMel talking a lot about “that mysterious
institute that Jonas Salk was planning to build
in La Jolla.”
Over time, the idea of the Institute evolved
and took shape. Salk enlisted a remarkable
group of people for the Board of Trustees, with
WarrenWeaver, who in 1938 had coined the term
“molecular biology,” at the helm. In addition
to Salk, Cohn, Lennox, Renato Dulbecco,
a virologist at CalTech, and Jacob Bronowski, a
mathematician, signed on as resident fellows.
Monod, Francis Crick, who worked in Cambridge at
the time, and Leo Szilard, the physicist who had
conceived the nuclear chain reaction, took on an advisory role as
non-resident fellows.
“What people may not realize is that the first faculty meetings
for the Salk Institute were held at the Pasteur Institute in Paris,”
says Bourgeois. “That’s where the founding members discussed
what kind of institute they envisioned.”
But the person who made the new institute a reality was
Basil O’Connor, the founding president of the National Foundation
for Infantile Paralysis, which later became known as the March of
Dimes. O’Connor had supported the development of the polio
vaccine; now he encouraged Salk’s new dream and provided the
financial foundation for the Institute. His name is inscribed in the
Salk Professor Chronicles the Institute’s Early Days
Inside Salk June 2008
Suzanne Bourgeois
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