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NLM to host "A Tribute to Marshall Nirenberg" on March 17, 2015

Event to be the first of a triplet of collaborative NIH events in 2015 that will celebrate the legacy of Marshall Nirenberg and the fiftieth anniversary of his deciphering of the genetic code

A man in a white lab coat and plastic gloves holds a glass tube.

Marshall Nirenberg in the lab, ca. 1962
National Library of Medicine

Fifty years ago, as a scientist at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Marshall W. Nirenberg (1927–2010) completed his first summary of the genetic code—one of the most significant documents in the history of twentieth-century science. This summary, now in the collections of the National Library of Medicine, is a painstakingly handwritten chart of the discovery of how sequences of DNA, known as “triplets,” direct the assembly of amino acids into the structural and functional proteins essential to life. Dr. Nirenberg would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1968 for this work, sharing the award with Robert W. Holley of Cornell University and Har Gobind Khorana of the University of Wisconsin at Madison “for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.”

This spring, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) will host a public program—A Tribute to Marshall Nirenberg—to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this scientific accomplishment. The event will be free, open to the public, and held on Tuesday, March 17 from 1:00 to 3:30 pm in the NLM’s Lister Hill Auditorium, Building 38a, on the Bethesda campus of the National Institutes of Health. The event will also be webcast. Subsequent NIH events will be announced soon.

A photograph of a gold medal, embossed with a profile portrait of Alfred Nobel, in its case.

The Nobel Prize awarded to Marshall Nirenberg in 1968
National Library of Medicine

Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg, Director of the NLM, will offer opening remarks. Marshall Nirenberg’s Nobel Prize medal and certificate, newly donated to the NLM through the generosity of his wife, Dr. Myrna Weissman, will be on display, and Dr. Weissman will offer brief remarks highlighting Dr. Nirenberg’s thoughts and feelings about science and about his life at NIH. Dr. Frank Portugal, author of The Least Likely Man: Marshall Nirenberg and the Discovery of the Genetic Code (MIT Press), and Dr. David Serlin, historian and curator of NLM’s Profiles in Science website on the Marshall Nirenberg Papers, will also speak at the event. Dr. George Thoma, Chief of the NLM’s Communications Engineering Branch, Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, will also offer remarks and formally launch a new Turning the Pages interactive presentation of Nirenberg’s first summary of the genetic code, which is held by the NLM and included in Profiles in Science. Dr. Jeffrey S. Reznick, Chief of the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, will moderate the question and answer period of the program.

A reception, sponsored by the Friends of the NLM, will follow the program, which is part of the NLM History of Medicine Division’s 2015 lecture series.

Learn more about Dr. Nirenberg, his work, and his accomplishments at NLM’s Profiles in Science web site and in a recent post on the NLM History of Medicine Division’s blog, Circulating Now. Throughout 2015 NLM will continue to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Nirenberg’s discovery through additional posts on Circulating Now

The world's largest biomedical library, the National Library of Medicine maintains and makes available a vast print collection and produces electronic information resources on a wide range of topics that are searched billions of times each year by millions of people around the globe. It also supports and conducts research, development and training in biomedical informatics and health information technology.