Salk Institute for Biological Studies


With the presence of the Scripps Research Institute and plans under way for the development of UCSD, the next keystone needed to create the nexus for the current-day powerhouse biotech cluster on Torrey Pines Mesa was San Diego’s pursuit of becoming home to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

The year was 1960. Dr. Jonas Salk had become famous for developing the polio vaccine, which essentially eliminated the threat of polio overnight. The polio vaccine was the first to be created with an inactive, or killed, virus. Prior to the polio vaccine, live viruses were injected in humans to build antibodies.

Dr. Salk, who was director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, did not make a profit on the polio vaccine but did use his notoriety to pursue his dream. The dream was to build an independent research center, where scientists could gather and pursue their curiosities in hopes of finding more biological cures.

Salk InstituteCities across the country vied to become the home to Dr. Jonas Salk’s dreams. San Diego Mayor, and former polio victim, Charles Dail led the charge to make a name for our city. In June 1960, 74% of San Diego residents overwhelmingly approved a donation of land to lure the Salk Institute to its current location.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet Dr. Jonas Salk’s son, Dr. Peter Salk. He notes his father was drawn by the innovative climate of California and thus San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area had become the leading candidates. Dr. Peter Salk remembers his father being particularly attracted to the beautiful cliff side location in Torrey Pines. This, along with the proximity of UCSD, which was being built at the time, and the overwhelming generosity of land from the citizens of San Diego sealed the deal.

Today, the Salk Institute is home to nearly 900 scientific staff members, including three Nobel Laureates, working in Chemistry and Proteomics; Stem Cell Biology; Cell Biology; Regulatory Biology; Metabolic Research; and Computational and Theoretical Biology.

The great foresight of San Diego citizens in 1960 to donate land for the Salk Institute has made San Diego a world class scientific research center. You can read more about other institutes that line the Torrey Pines Mesa each Wednesday in my series about the world-class research organizations in San Diego.

Salk Institute Information

Five minute video on the Salk Institute.

Take a tour of the Salk Institute weekdays at noon. Advanced registration is required.

Attend seminars at the Salk Institute. You will also see a list of seminars being held at other nearby institutes.

Learn more about High School Science Day at the Salk Institute. This annual event takes place on a Saturday each spring.

Directions from Google Maps. If you visit the Salk Institute, be sure to walk or drive closer to the cliffs and watch paragliders soar over the cliffs of Torrey Pines at the Torrey Pines Gliderport.

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