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Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück

Max Ludwig Henning DelbrückMax Ludwig Henning Delbrück (1906–1981)

A German-American biophysicist, Delbrück was born in 1906 in Berlin. He studied astrophysics, shifting toward theoretical physics, at the University of Göttingen. After receiving his Ph.D., he met Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr and became interested in biology. In 1937, he was offered a Rockefeller fellowship in the biology division at Caltech to research the genetics of the fruit fly. While at Caltech, Delbrück became acquainted with bacteria and their viruses. He remained in the United States during World War II and taught physics at Vanderbilt from 1940 to 1947 while continuing his genetic research.

In 1942, Delbrück and Salvador Luria of Indiana University demonstrated that bacterial resistance to virus infection is caused by random mutation and not adaptive change. This research, known as the Luria-Delbrück experiment, also was significant for its use of mathematics to make quantitative predictions for the results to be expected from alternative models. For that work, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1969, sharing it with Alfred Hershey. In late 1946, Delbrück accepted a professorship at Caltech, where he remained until his death.