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Matthew Meselson

Matthew Meselson

Co-director, Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons

Member of the Board

Telephone: (617) 495-5099



Matthew Stanley Meselson is Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the
Natural Sciences and a member of the Belfer Center Board of Directors.

He received the Ph.B. degree from the University of Chicago in 1951 and the Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1957.

He was a research fellow and then Assistant Professor of Physical Chemistry at CalTech until he joined the Harvard faculty in 1960, where he conducts research in molecular genetics and evolution.

Since 1963 Dr. Meselson has been interested in chemical and biological defense and arms control and has served as a consultant on this subject to various government agencies. He is co-director of the Harvard-Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation and co-editor of its quarterly journal, The Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin. Dr. Meselson is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Academie des Sciences (Paris), the Academia Sanctae Clarae (Genoa), the Royal Society (London), the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

He has received numerous awards in molecular biology and genetics, most recently the 2004 Albert Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science and the 2008 Mendel Medal of the UK Genetics Society. He has served on the Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the Council of the Smithsonian Institution, the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Advisory Board to the U.S. Secretary of State and the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Pugwash Study Group on the Implementation of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions.



By Date



AP Photo

November 7, 2013

Syria, the OPCW, and Chemical Weapons 101


By Andrew Wojtanik, Former Research Assistant, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Matthew Meselson, Co-director, Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons

Following a U.S.-Russian proposal and UN Security Council resolution in September, the challenging task of securing, transporting, and ultimately destroying Syria's chemical weapons has fallen largely to the technical experts of the Nobel Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). To provide a background on chemical weapons and the OPCW's challenges ahead, research assistant Andrew Wojtanik asked Dr. Matthew Meselson, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, for his insights.



McGill University Photo

May 27, 2013

Matthew Meselson Addresses McGill Graduates


By Matthew Meselson, Co-director, Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons

Professor Matthew Meselson addresses the graduates at the McGill University Convocation on May 27, 2013, urging them to make the most of the new information technology resources available today.



January 15, 2009

"Your Inbox, Mr. President"

Op-Ed, Nature

By Matthew Meselson, Co-director, Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons

Rejuvenate the Environmental Protection Agency. End the stem-cell ban. Re engage with the UN on climate change. Six leading voices tell Nature what the new US president needs to do to move beyond the Bush legacy.



June 2008

"The Yellow Rain Affair: Lessons from a Discredited Allegation"

Book Chapter

By Matthew Meselson, Co-director, Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons

"U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in a speech in West Berlin in September 1981 and in a detailed report to the Congress the following March, charged Soviet-backed Laotian and Vietnamese forces with waging toxin warfare against Hmong resistance fighters and their villages in Laos and against Khmer Rouge soldiers and villages in Cambodia. The charges were repeated with additional details in a further report to the Congress and to the member states of the United Nations in November 1982 by Haig's successor, Secretary of State George Shultz.

The investigation on which the allegation was based, however, failed to employ reliable methods of witness interrogation or of forensic laboratory investigation; it was further marred by the dismissal and withholding of contrary evidence and a lack of independent review. When the evidence for toxin attacks or any other form of chemical/biological warfare (CBW) was subjected to more careful examination, it could not be confirmed or was discredited. In what became known as the "Yellow Rain" affair, these charges — that toxic substances called trichothecenes were used in CBW — were initially pressed vigorously by the U.S. government and, even when the allegations proved unsustainable, they were not withdrawn...."



January / February 2007

"Weapons Lab"

Journal Article, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (Special Issue: Five Minutes to Midnight), issue 1, volume 63

By Matthew Meselson, Co-director, Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons

"The lack of transparency in U.S. biodefense work is fostering a widespread perception that we are secretly developing novel threat agents and exploring novel bioweapons concepts. This constitutes a kind of psychological proliferation that risks eroding the constraints against military and paramilitary use of biological weapons. And aside from security considerations, secrecy in biological research will impede rather than foster the discovery and development of practical methods of prophylaxis and therapy of infective disease."

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.