Center for Humanities & History of Modern Biology

Waclaw Szybalski

New Year’s is not only a time to look ahead, but it's also a time to look back and honor those that have enriched our institution. At the close of this year, we would like to honor Dr. Waclaw Szybalski, world-renowned molecular biologist and CSHL alumnus. Dr. Szybalski’s substantial gift to the Library & Archives enabled the essential renovation and expansion of the Carnegie Building in 2010.


Karl Maramorosch and Waclaw Szybalski in Cold Spring Harbor, summer of 1951 (Courtesy of the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia Collection)

Dr. Szybalski is known for making many significant contributions throughout his career, beginning with his studies on mutagenesis and continuing through his contributions to genomics. He was among the first to formulate the concept of multi-drug antibiotic therapy and also participated in the Human Genome Project. Waclaw Szybalski has been a close friend of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory since he began attending symposia at Cold Spring Harbor in 1951. Dr. Szybalski studied the genetics of antibiotic resistance. He studied under Milislav Demerec in a lab on the second floor of the Main Building (now the Carnegie Building). Their work on the genetics of antibiotic resistance led Dr. Szybalski to be among the first to propose the use of multi-drug therapy in the treatment of illness. The concept has been immensely influential in therapeutics for cancer and infectious disease.


Letters between Waclaw Szybalski and Francis Crick regarding BUdR-containing DNA, 1960 (Courtesy of the Sydney Brenner Collection)

View the letters in our Digital Archives Repository:


Waclaw Szybalski & H. Murialdo at the 1980 Phage Meeting (Courtesy of the CSHL Meetings Collection)


Waclaw Szybalski (left) at the 2001 Genome Mapping and Sequencing Meeting (Courtesy of the CSHL Meetings Collection)


Dr. Szybalski has been an enormous contributor and philanthropist to the Library & Archives. In 2005, Dr. Szybalski described his strong affection for the Library:

I love Cold Spring Harbor. I spent the most exciting years of my life there both scientifically and socially. My first staff meeting in the spring of 1951 was in the Carnegie Library. During that meeting, Al Hershey presented results of the now-famous Waring blender experiment. This was tremendously exciting to hear straight from the horse’s mouth! I’ve returned to Cold Spring Harbor every year since 1955, for the phage meeting. I always stop at the Carnegie Library to look up something of interest, current or in the past, or to run into some of my old friends who also like the old library

 Dr. Szybalski realized that our charming, century-old building needed to evolve in order to provide better access for scholarship and pave the way for the future of scientific information sharing and the preservation of the history of molecular biology. Dr. Szybalski’s donation changed the original structure of the Carnegie Building, by adding the Szybalski Annex. The Annex adds important features: the spacious Szybalski Reading Room, a reading area on the first floor whose size and long central table make it an ideal space for meetings and for providing archives reference. With its high ceilings and many large windows, the Szybalski Room has become a favorite spot on campus. Collections in this room include publications pertaining to the history of the laboratory since its inception; volumes of the famed CSH Symposia, as well as a complete set of publications by CSHL authors. Many volumes from the personal book collections of James D. Watson and Sydney Brenner, can also be found in this room.


Waclaw Szybalski and Mila Pollock, Executive Director of the Library & Archives, outside the Szybalski Annex, 2010 (Courtesy of the CSHL Archives Collection)

Next time you’re visiting Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, be sure to stop in and explore the Carnegie Building, where you can learn all about the Laboratory’s past, present, and future, as well as the many influential scientists, such as Waclaw Szybalski, who have helped shape our institution into what it is today.