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Max A. Lauffer Papers

What’s online?

The correspondence between Max Lauffer and Jonas Salk is scanned and online.

What’s in the entire collection?

This collection documents the life and work of Max A. Lauffer, a distinguished University of Pittsburgh professor and influential scientist who was crucial to the creation of the polio vaccine, among his many important professional accomplishments. Much of the material concerns his scientific work and his career at Pitt (1944-1986) through personal and professional correspondence, including letters to and from Jonas Salk; copies of many of his talks and lectures concerning various scientific and non-technical topics; articles and books that he wrote and to which he contributed; outlines and notes for his courses and other work; and many of the honors and awards that he received over his lifetime. Lauffer's participation in many professional and scientific organizations is also evident in this collection.

In addition, there are documents concerning Lauffer's personal life, such as his heavy involvement with the Presbyterian Church. The earliest records include personal material such as childhood photographs and examples from his college coursework. The scope of the collection continues after Lauffer's death with documentation of the Tousimis-Lauffer Distinguished Lecture Series, which was named after him and continues in his honor, as well as items used during his memorial service.

About Max Lauffer

Maximilian Augustus Lauffer was born on September 2, 1914, in Londonderry Township near Middletown, Pennsylvania, to Max and Elsie Lauffer. He had one sister, Eleanor. He attended Iron Mine Run School and graduated from Middletown High School in 1929. Lauffer received a Bachelor of Science degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1933 and a Master of Science in Biochemistry in 1934. He obtained his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1937.

In his work at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research from 1937 to 1944, Lauffer published on the physical characteristics of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus. This was one of the first pictures of a virus ever created, and his work helped to lay the foundation for the cure of viral infections such as polio. Lauffer also studied the influenza virus and his work with its biophysical properties helped pave the way for the creation of flu vaccines. He also played an important role in bringing Jonas Salk to the University of Pittsburgh to study the polio virus. Lauffer's main research interests while at Pitt were "the hydration of viruses and proteins, and the relationship between the physical or chemical structure and the biological properties of biologically active proteins." He believed that his work on entropy-driven processes in biology was the most important work of his career because these processes are involved in so many other biological processes that involve motion.

From 1944 to 1986, Lauffer was an Andrew W. Mellon Professor, administrator, and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. He founded the Department of Biophysics in 1949 and chaired the department until 1956. When Chancellor Edward Litchfield reorganized the College of Arts and Sciences into three divisions, he appointed Lauffer as the first Dean of the Natural Sciences. Lauffer held this position until he returned to the Biophysics Department in 1963. He was later named the chair of the merged Department of Biophysics and Microbiology. He retired from teaching and research at the university in 1984 and continued to work in the office of the Provost for several years afterward.

Lauffer also loved to travel and did some teaching abroad over the years. He taught at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Lauffer was also a visiting professor at the University of Bern in Switzerland in 1952 and at the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research in Tubingen, Germany, from 1965 to 1966. He served as a consultant at the University of the Philippines in the fall of 1967.

Lauffer also served as a consultant to the Joint Research and Development Board and to the U.S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories, and as a member of several National Research Council committees. He was a member of the first National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council of the National Institutes of Health, and a consultant to the Surgeon General of the U.S. from 1963 to 1967.

Lauffer received many awards for his work, including the Eli Lilly and Company Research Award in Biochemistry in 1945, the Pittsburgh Award from the Pittsburgh section of the American Chemical Society in 1958, and the University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award in 1964. In 2006, the Tousimis-Lauffer Distinguished Annual Lecture in Biological Sciences was established in his honor by his former student, Anastasios J. Tousimis.

Lauffer was a member of many scientific organizations during his lifetime. He was a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, as well as a member of the American Chemical Society, the Federation of American Scientists, the American Society of Biological Chemists, and the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. In addition to serving as a member, Lauffer was a founder and president of the Biophysical Society and editor of the Biophysical Journal, the official publication of the organization. He was also the co-editor of the publication Advances in Virus Research for over thirty years.

In addition to his scientific work, Lauffer was very active in the Presbyterian Church. He served the Presbyterian Church on local, regional, national, and international levels. He was an elder of the Presbyterian Congregation of Middletown, a moderator of the Presbytery of Carlisle in 1992, a member and chairman of the Council on Church and Society from 1963 to 1971, and a delegate to the World Council of Churches’ Church and Society Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1966. He served on the boards of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and The College of Wooster. He was also active in the community and was a lifelong member of the World Federalist Association (now Citizens for Global Solutions) and was president of the Rotary Club of Middletown.

Lauffer died on August 8, 2012, and is survived by his wife, Erika, and four children: Edward, Susan, Max and John.

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