Stanley, Wendell M. (Wendell Meredith), 1904-

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1904-08-16
Death 1971-06-15

Biographical notes:

Biography

Wendell Meredith Stanley was born in Ridgeville, Indiana on August 16, 1904. His parents, James G. and Claire (Plessinger) Stanley, published two local newspapers, the Ridgeville News and the Union City Eagle. When his father died in 1920, the Stanleys moved to Richmond, Indiana where Wendell graduated from Richmond High School in 1922. He attended Earlham College, where an ancestor had donated ground for the college with the provison that all bearing the Stanley name should be given special consideration.

At Earlham, Stanley majored in chemistry and mathematics, but his dominant interest was athletics, particularly football. Captain of the football team in his senior year and selected for the Indiana All-State College Team, he wanted to work as an athletic coach. But an introduction to Professor Roger Adams, a well-known organic chemist and head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, kindled in Stanley an interest in chemistry as a profession, particularly in the area of medical research.

Stanley spent nearly four years at the University of Illinois, majoring in organic chemistry, with physical chemistry and bacteriology as minors (M.S. 1927, Ph.D. 1929). During that time, he held several teaching and research assistantships (this work resulted in Stanley's two earliest published papers, in 1927 and 1929, the first of some 190 publications), and was an instructor in chemistry. During the course of a research assistantship with Roger Adams, Stanley met another graduate student doing similar work, Marion Staples Jay, and they were married in 1929. After completing his doctorate, Stanley worked with Adams as a research associate for another year, investigating the stereoisomerism of diphenyl compounds. His interest in this area led to a National Research Fellowship at the Münich laboratory of Heinrich Wieland in 1930-1931.

Upon his return to the United States in 1931, Stanley accepted a position at the New York Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. For a year he worked with noted cell physiologist W. J. V. Osterhout. In 1932, Simon Flexner and Louis Otto Kunkel invited Stanley to join their staff at the Rockefeller Institute's Department of Plant and Animal Pathology in Princeton, New Jersey, where he rose from Assistant to Associate (1935-1937) to Associate Member (1937- 1940) to Member (1940-1948).

Like Flexner and Kunkel, Stanley was interested in the possibilities of chemical rather than biological studies on viruses--then a largely uncharted area of scientific investigation--and he began studying the chemistry of plant virus proteins, particularly that of tobacco mosaic. Late in 1934, Stanley was able to isolate a crystalline material (later identified as a nucleoprotein) possessing the properties of tobacco mosaic virus. This development not only challenged the prevalent belief that viruses were submicroscopic organisms, but also altered fundamental ideas concerning the nature of living matter. During World War II, Stanley was appointed a consultant to the Secretary of War and a member of the Army Commission on Influenza, directing a project that resulted in the development of a centrifuge-purified influenza vaccine.

By the end of the war, Stanley's work had garnered numerous awards: the American Association for the Advancement of Science Prize in 1937, Harvard Medical School's Isaac Adler Prize, the University of Chicago's Rosenberger Medal, and the City of Philadelphia's John Scott Medal, all in 1938; the American Institute's Gold Medal in 1941; a Copernican Citation in 1943; and the American Chemical Society's Nichols Medal in 1946. It was no surprise when his work with viruses was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1946. Stanley shared the prize that year with his colleague at the Rockefeller Institute, John H. Northrop, and with James B. Sumner of Cornell University. He went on to win many other awards, including a Presidential Certificate of Merit (1948) and a Modern Medicine Award (1958) for his influenza work; awards from the American Cancer Society in 1959 and 1963; the City of Hope Medical Progress Award in 1962; the Fellow Award of the American Phytopathological Society in 1965; and the American Medical Association's Scientific Achievement Award in 1966. Dr. Stanley's achievements were also recognized in other countries: the Government of Japan awarded him the Second Class Order of the Rising Sun in 1966, and in 1970 he was elected a Foreign Associate Member of the French Academy of Sciences of the Institute of France.

Dr. Stanley came to Berkeley in 1948, where he founded the Virus Laboratory, a new Department of Biochemistry and in 1958 a Department of Virology (these were expanded in 1964 to become the Department of Molecular Biology). As Director of the Virus Laboratory and chairman of the departments mentioned above, Stanley was not only responsible for the training of many distinguished scientists, but he also supervised research ranging from electron microscopy to chemical genetics, which led to important advancements in the study of poliomyelitis and other virus-driven diseases. As early as 1956, one year after the historic isolation of the polio virus in his Virus Laboratory, Stanley asserted his belief that the origins of cancer lay in a virus, and that a cancer cure might be based on virological studies.

In addition to his research activities, Stanley was interested in educating new generations of scientists. He lectured widely throughout his career, both as part of honorary lectureships such as U.C. Berkeley's Hitchcock Professorship, Cornell's Messenger Lectureship and Princeton's Vanuxem Lectures, and on television and radio. He served on the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Society of Biological Chemists, and on the National Advisory Cancer Council of the United States Public Health Service. He was a member of many national committees and panels and for many years served on the World Health Organization's Expert Advisory Panel on Virus Diseases. He was active on the editorial boards of several journals and for five years held the chairmanship of the Editorial Board for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wendell M. Stanley died on June 14, 1971, while in Spain to chair a symposium in honor of Dr. Francisco Duran-Reynals.

From the guide to the Wendell M. Stanley Papers, 1926-1972, (The Bancroft Library.)

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Subjects:

  • Nobel prizes
  • Viruses

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