ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY is a world-renowned center for research and graduate education in the biomedical sciences, chemistry, and physics, located in New York City. It was founded in 1901 as the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research through the philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller. Over the course of a century, Rockefeller scientists received twenty-one Nobel Prizes for achievements such as revealing the microscopic structures inside cells, discovering the Rh factor in blood, developing novel methods for synthesizing proteins, and uncovering the workings of chemical transmitters in the brain.
The Rockefeller Institute was modeled on European research centers such as the Koch Institute, where in the late nineteenth century scientists had identified the bacterial causes of many infectious diseases. But the Rockefeller Institute's mission under its first director, Simon Flexner, was broader than bacteriology. Flexner created laboratories in chemistry, physiology, and other areas, each headed by an independent investigator, to study the underlying causes of disease. This administrative structure, of independent laboratories reporting directly to the institution's head, has remained in place throughout Rockefeller's history. In 1906, the institute's permanent laboratories opened at York Avenue and Sixty-Sixth Street in New York City.
In 1910, Rockefeller Hospital opened, the first hospital in the United States devoted completely to clinical research. Here physician-researchers combined the care of patients with laboratory investigation of disease. Polio, heart disease, and diabetes were among the first diseases studied. Dedication to studying the basic biology and chemistry of disease was rewarded in 1944 with one of the most dramatic scientific discoveries of the century: Oswald T. Avery and colleagues, in the course of searching for a cure for pneumococcal pneumonia, found that DNA carries genetic information. Rockefeller Hospital was a model for dozens of clinical research centers in university hospitals and elsewhere in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Always a center for postdoctoral training in the sciences, the Rockefeller Institute expanded and formalized its commitment to education under its third president, Detlev Bronk. In 1955, the first class of students was admitted into a new Ph.D. program. In 1965, the institute officially became Rockefeller University, and in the early 1970s, a M.D.–Ph.D. program was launched with Cornell University Medical College, now called Weill Medical College. The participation of the Sloan-Kettering Institute made the M.D.–Ph.D. program tri-institutional.
The transition from institute to university was also marked by expansion, both in size and in the areas of research supported. Physicists and mathematicians joined the faculty, as well as researchers studying animal behavior. As of 2002, there were seventy-five laboratories at the university, and approximately 160 Ph.D. and M.D.–Ph.D. students. The university draws from a diverse base of financial support, including its endowment, private gifts, and sponsored government and private contracts.
Corner, George W. A History of the Rockefeller Institute, 1901– 1953: Origins and Growth. New York: Rockefeller Institute Press, 1965.
Hanson, Elizabeth. The Rockefeller University Achievements: A Century of Science for the Benefit of Humankind, 1901–2001. New York: Rockefeller University Press, 2000.