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  The 1941 meeting of Max Delbruck (left) and Salvador Luria marked the beginning of the American Phage Group. Each year, starting in 1945, members of the Phage Group convened at Cold Spring Harbor for a summer of shared research and fun.
The phage course has its origins in a collaboration set up by physicist-turned-biologist Max Delbruck and Salvador Luria. They met at a physics meeting in Philadelphia in the winter of 1941. They decided to collaborate on some phage experiments and since Delbruck was going to Cold Spring Harbor that summer for the Symposium, they decided to meet there. Delbruck reportedly said their collaboration might help him overcome his "antipathy to the place." Apparently it did, because they came back year after year, building up a school of followers. At the core of the phage group were Delbruck and Luria's students, including James Watson, Renato Dulbecco, and others, and interested physicists and biochemists such as the father of the nuclear chain reaction Leo Szilard, atomic scientist Phillip Morrison, and others.

The phage group fluorished during World War II. Many of the phage scientists were scientific refugees of Eastern European countries. These scientists, officially "enemies," were banned from war research, so they were largely left alone to pursue experiments with bacteriophage.

In 1945 Delbruck started a training course at Cold Spring Harbor for phage biology. Although Cold Spring Harbor had been founded as a teaching institution, courses had not been offered for several years, and those had been geared mostly to high school, college, and lay students. The phage course, in contrast, was an intensive, graduate-level training course. It was intended to indoctrinate practicing researchers into a new discipline, to train them to do professional academic research on bacteriophage.

Despite its novel, highly professional flavor, the course was appropriate for Cold Spring Harbor. Since the turn of the century, Cold Spring Harbor had prided itself on "quantitative biology." For the previous ten years, this had meant physiology and biophysics. But Delbruck came in with his own concept of quantitative biology. A student in the first phage course, Hermann Kalckar, said, "Delbruck introduced me to quantitative biology and genetics through his first phage course....At that time, few biochemists thought along the lines of Poisson distributions....It is impossible, however, to grasp the fundamentals aspects of natural selection and population dynamics--so beautifully illustrated by the Luria-Delbruck fluctuation test--without paying attention to Poisson distributions, exponential equations, etc. And so Delbruck, who is uncompromising when something crucial is at stake, set an entrance examination on such matters for all who applied to take his course."

The exam tested students' abilities in "multiplication and division of large numbers" and calculus. From the start, the students were at least graduate students and many were post-doctorate. Many had a background in physics.

Brief History

Delbruck taught the course the first three summers. He was assisted in 1945 by A.H. Doermann and J.H. Reynolds, and in 1946 by W.T. Bailey, Jr. In 1947 Delbruck was joined by Mark Adams, a student from the previous year, as co-instructor. Scientists taking the course under Delbruck included Rollin Hotchkiss and Hermann Kalckar (1945), Vernon Bryson, Harriet Taylor, and Samuel Cohen (1946), Philip Morrison, Leo Szilard, Aaron Novick, and Wolf Vishniac (1947).

In 1948 Mark Adams, of NYU College of Medicine, took over the instructorship of the phage course. Delbruck lectured often in the course, but was not listed as an instructor. With the exception of the summer of 1952, Adams continued to teach the course until 1954, assisted by various students of his brought out from NYU, including Nancy Collins, Maryda Swanstrom, and Evelyn Wade. The course continued to grow under Adams's direction, stabilizing at about 14 students per summer. A series of lecturers were added, mainly previous students of the course and colleagues of students and instructors.

Students during these years included Seymour Benzer, Peggy Lieb, Gunther Stent, and Seymour Wollman (1948), G. Bertani, Sol Goodgal, and Norton Zinder (1949), Philip Hartman and Marguerite Vogt (1950, Waclaw Szybalski (1951), Frank Stahl (1952), Julius Marmur (1953), and Bob Edgar (1954).

Throught the remainder of the 1950s, the course was team-taught by different combinations of A.H. Doermann, Salvador Luria, George Streisinger, of the Carnegie Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor, and Frank Stahl. Bob Edgar taught the course for many of the summers of the 1960s, assisted by Charles Steinberg of Oak Ridge, and others. Herschel Roman took the course in 1956, Anna-Marie Skalka in 1962, Dan Nathans in 1964, Tom Caskey in 1967. In the second half of the 1960s, the course lacked the consistent leadership of one or a few instructors, but high-quality scientists led the group nonetheless. Instructors included Millard Susman, Stahl and Steinberg back again for another summer, Hatch Echols, and Max Gottesman.

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