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Seymour Benzer Papers

Identifier: 10242-MS

Scope and Contents

The collection is organized into the following series:

  1. Correspondence
  2. Salk Institute for Biological Studies 1959-1968
  3. Research Files
  4. Scientific Lectures and Travel Notes
  5. Nominations and Recommendations
  6. Manuscripts and Writings
  7. Reprints
  8. Biographical and Personal Material


  • Creation: 1942-2007; bulk 1950-2000


Language of Materials

English & Yiddish

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to researchers with the exception of three files (16.2, 47.2, and 81.22) and a whole box (113). These materials are closed indefinitely due to their personal and confidential matter. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Biographical / Historical

Seymour Benzer (1921-2007) was the James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) from 1975 to 1993. He was awarded the Crafoord Prize in 1993 for his pioneering genetical and neurophysiological studies of behavioral mutants in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. He became emeritus from Caltech in the same year. He had previously been a visiting associate and professor at Caltech, 1965-1975, and a research fellow, 1949-1951.

Benzer was born in the South Bronx, New York, grew up in Brooklyn and attended Brooklyn College (BA, physics, 1942). His graduate work was done at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana (MS, physics, 1943; PhD, physics, 1947). He maintained a long association with Purdue (through 1967) despite frequent absences to pursue study and research at other institutions, notably Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1948-1949), Caltech (1949-1951), the Pasteur Institute (1951-1952), the Cavendish Laboratory (1957-1958), and intermittently at Woods Hole and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. Benzer's interest turned by stages from physics to biophysics to genetics to the biological basis of behavior. In the 1960s he participated in the founding of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and he joined the Caltech faculty permanently in 1967, initially to work with Roger Sperry. Benzer was awarded the Crafoord Prize jointly with William D. Hamilton in 1993. He received an honorary doctorate (D.Sc.h.c.) from Purdue in 1968, the Wolf Prize in medicine (from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences) in 1991, and several other noteworthy honors.


54 linear feet (126 boxes)


Seymour Benzer (1921-2007) first came to Caltech in 1949. He held the James G. Boswell Professorship of Neuroscience from 1975 to 1993. A selection of his correspondence, research notes, technical files, reprints, manuscripts and writings form the collection known as the Seymour Benzer Papers in the Archives of the California Institute of Technology. Benzer was awarded the Crafoord Prize in 1993 for his pioneering genetical and neuropsychological studies on behavioral mutants in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.


The Benzer Papers are organized in 126 archival boxes divided into eight series: (1) Correspondence; (2) Salk Institute 1959-1968; (3) Research files; (4) Scientific lectures and travel notes; (5) Nominations and recommendations; (6) Manuscripts and writings; (7) Reprints; (8) Biographical and personal Material.

Series 1, Correspondence, is one of the most interesting and richest portions of the Benzer papers. It has been processed by decade and divided accordingly into subseries arranged by name in alphabetical order. Therefore many names appear frequently across the different subseries. The series comprises correspondence with individuals, corporate bodies, professional and government organizations. Some correspondence regarding meetings and conferences is also included. Benzer's personal letters and those concerning members of his family can be found in Series 8 (Biographical and personal material). Benzer corresponded with many prominent biologists of his time including many Nobel Prize winners of the last five decades. Major individual correspondents represented in Series 1 are: G. Beadle, P. Berg, S. Brenner, M. Cohn, M. Cowan, F. Crick, M. Delbrück, R. Dulbecco, A. Hershey, R. W. Holley, R. H. Horvitz, F. Jacob, E. R. Kandel, H. G. Khorana, R. Konopka, A. Kornberg, J. Lederberg, E. Lennox, R. Levi-Montalcini, E. B. Lewis, K. Lorenz, S. E. Luria, A. Lwoff, J. Monod, M. Nirenberg, S. Ochoa, M. Perutz, G. Pontecorvo, R. R. Porter, S. B. Prusiner, J. Sulston, G. Wald and J. D. Watson. Corporate bodies include research and academic institutions, notably, Purdue University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and the Neurosciences Research Program. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies appears in a separate series (Series 2), but many names from Series 1 have been cross-referenced to Series 2.

In the early 1960s, Benzer participated in the establishment of the Salk Institute and was one of the founding members. All material related to the Salk Institute, mainly correspondence, can be found in Series 2.

Series 3, Research files, includes important material relating to Benzer's research activities at the different academic institutions with which he was affiliated. Researchers can find Benzer's notes from his early days as a PhD student at Purdue University (1942-1947), notes and notebooks from the time he spent at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1948-1949), at the Pasteur Institute (1951-1952), and at the California Institute of Technology (1967-2007).

Benzer's scientific lectures and travel notes can be found in Series 4, which like the preceding series, is arranged chronologically. This series includes Benzer's invited talks, and notes from conferences, workshops and meetings he attended, from the early 1940s through the early 2000s.

Series 5, Nominations and recommendations, is divided into three subseries. The first two subseries, arranged alphabetically, deal with Benzer as nominee and as nominator for several awards and prizes. The third subseries contains job applications and letters of recommendation from the late 1940s through the early 2000s. The box of recommendations is currently closed.

Series 6, Manuscripts and writings, contains Benzer's publications in various states, from offprints to notes, drafts, and galleys. These files include correspondence related to his publications, in some instances, with co-authors.

Series 7 contains Benzer's reprints, organized in chronological order, as well as reprints of others, organized alphabetically.

Series 8, Biographical and personal material, contains a diverse assortment of items arranged in three short subseries. The first contains correspondence of a personal nature, comprising letters to close personal friends and relatives, invitations and various types of greetings. The next subseries is a miscellany of biographical documents, from personal data to biographical statements and interviews. The third subseries contains a small amount of material on Benzer's personal interests, from paleontology to music and lyrics.

Physical Location

Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

The Seymour Benzer papers were given to the Caltech Archives by Dr. Carol Miller, Seymour Benzer's widow, in 2008-2009.

Finding Aid for the Seymour Benzer Papers, 1942-2007; bulk 1950-2000
Processed by Brenda Shorkend, assisted by Charlotte Erwin, Nurit Lifshitz and Elisa Piccio .
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the California Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections Repository

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