90th birthday letter from President Barack Obama to Paul Doty, May 2010
"Celebrating PAUL DOTY, Belfer Center Founder, at 90"
Author: Sharon Wilke, Associate Director of Communications
We celebrate Paul Doty, founder and director emeritus of the Belfer Center and member of our board of directors, as well as emeritus professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Mallinckrodt Professor of Biochemistry, emeritus, at Harvard. We share a snapshot of Paul's life and his contributions to science and international security. At 90, he continues his outstanding contributions to the Belfer Center and global community through his ongoing research, insights, and guidance.
Paul Doty remembers his excitement the day he was to begin chemistry his junior year of high school. He had a small lab at his house in Chicora, Pennsylvania, and couldn't wait for his first chemistry class. As it turned out, the teacher's "acquaintance with chemistry was extremely modest," and after a few days of being corrected by his student, the teacher turned the class over to Doty. "Why don't you teach chemistry?" he asked.
That experience, Doty said, was one of several "lucky" events that directed his trajectory toward what was to become an outstanding career in chemistry, biochemistry, arms control, and international security. Another was his mother's wish for him to go to the local college and to teach in the same wooden schoolhouse he attended. That scenario's lack of appeal was enough to motivate Doty to win acceptance from Penn State, where he earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry. Having distinguished himself there, he went on to graduate school at Columbia University to study physical chemistry.
At Columbia in 1941, the atmosphere was electric. Pearl Harbor was attacked, the war was on, papers were being published on splitting the atom, and several prominent scholars in that field were at Columbia. Doty began attending classes taught by Enrico Fermi, Isadore I. Rabi, Edward Teller, and Harold Urey. "It was all in the air," he said, remembering one day when he got on the elevator and there was Danish physicist Nils Bohr. Bohr had just escaped from Denmark, "so one just had to put the dots together."
The seed was planted - Columbia, 1941
Before long, Paul Doty was working the night shift on the Manhattan Project, trying to separate uranium isotopes. Many of his professors soon "disappeared" from campus, but he stayed to earn his Ph.D. with a 14-page dissertation - and the seed was planted for his future work in science and arms control.
From Columbia, Doty went to Cambridge University with a fellowship and a growing interest in molecular biology. While there, he traveled around Europe on lecture tours. "It was a wonderful eye opening time," he said.
In 1948, Harvard offered Doty an assistant professorship, and Harvard's chemistry department became his home base. With his wife, Helga Boedtker, he built a world-renowned lab which she helped manage for four decades. A record-setting fourteen of Doty's 100 research students were later elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
In 1968, Doty founded Harvard's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, now known as the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Serving as its first chairman, this became the conduit for bringing the new biology to Harvard, much helped by the recruitment of James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.
One of the best-known works of Doty's laboratory was the demonstration that the two separated strands of a double helix can be reunited to reform the original active molecule. This technique became the basis of forming new forms of DNA and determining the sequence of the four units that make up nucleic acid strands - culminating in the Human Genome Project. Doty's talents included co-founding the Journal of Molecular Biology as he had earlier the Journal of Polymer Sciences. Both continue as leading journals in their fields.
A game changer - Pugwash, 1957
As president of the Federation of American Scientists in 1957, Doty was invited to a meeting in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, to follow up on the 1955 global appeal by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein to control nuclear weapons and prevent a world war. The meeting for Doty was a "game changer."
"The Russians brought us three people [to that meeting] who were examples of what you hoped you would find buried somewhere in Russia," Doty said in his September interview with Belfer Center International Security Program Director Steven Miller.
"One was a well known physicist who had been a negotiator for them in Geneva; then the leader of the group was the vice president of their Academy of Science, Alexander Topchief, a rugged Georgian, but absolutely committed to being a bulldog going after more collaboration between Russia and the U.S.....The third one was a rather non-political physicist who had done a lot of work on radiation damage, which coincided with what we were doing and which was really the easiest thing to agree on at this little meeting...Topchief invited me to come visit Russia and I went the next year."
Scientific diplomacy and arms control - Russia, 1958
40 visits to the Soviet Union during the Cold War
Doty's trip to Russia in 1958 convinced him that he could help prevent the use of nuclear weapons by working with Soviet scientists outside official channels. In the following years, he made more than 40 trips to the Soviet Union to promote careful examination of the technical aspects related to nuclear arms control and avoiding nuclear war. Doty was group leader for visits with top Russian scientists who included two vice presidents of the Soviet Academy of Scientists and the physicist and bomb-maker turned dissident and future Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov. Shortly after one meeting in Sakharov's Moscow flat, the dissident was arrested by Krushchev's forces and exiled to Gorky for six years.
The U.S.-Russia efforts led by Doty were especially successful because many of the scientists later became influential advisors to President Mikhail Gorbachev, whose actions would help end the Cold War.
Simultaneously with his U.S.-Russia efforts, Doty became a consultant to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as they prepared their seminal issue on arms control in their journal Daedalus. Scheduled for publication in 1960, this work initiated nuclear arms control as a valid academic field of study and helped guide a plan for the meeting between Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev in Paris in 1960.
Another game changer - Kennedy, 1960
John F. Kennedy's election as president in 1960 was another game changer for Doty - a time when his interest in nuclear issues and arms control got a tremendous boost.
"I got touched by Kennedy's style and substance," he says, "and also stimulated by the Daedalus arms control [work] in 1960."
Doty was invited to join President Kennedy's science advisory council and helped formulate nuclear arms control proposals. He formed a National Academy of Sciences committee to oversee the exchange of Soviet and American scientists for research purposes and later convinced the Academy to establish the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC). He even arranged a visit to Strategic Air Command for the Russian visitors. He was also deeply involved in the Dartmouth Conferences, which brought together leading citizens of the two countries to discuss matters of potential conflict and economic cooperation. This group's Arms Control Task Force, chaired by Doty, held separate meetings involving congressional, political, and military leaders as well as nongovernmental specialists. These meetings helped reduce tensions during the Cold War.
In 1960 and 1961, Doty organized two ground-breaking Pugwash conferences in the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1964, he formed a bilateral Soviet-American group that he co-chaired with the vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. This group contributed critically to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. Also, beginning in 1972, Doty initiated a summer workshop on arms control at Colorado's Aspen Institute.
The Soviet-American disarmament studies that took place between 1964 and 1975 were "quite a success," Doty says. "This was a window of opportunity in that leading scientists and physicists in Russia were held in high esteem at the time, and that provided a useful ‘back channel.'"
Birth of the Belfer Center, 1974
Doty's interest in the intersection of science and international affairs continued to grow, and in 1973 he convinced McGeorge Bundy, then president of the Ford Foundation, to support a Harvard center for science and international affairs and several other security centers around the world.
In 1974, Doty launched what is now the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, continuing half time with his biochemistry. A year later, Doty founded and became editor of the Center's International Security journal. Now, under Steve Miller's editorship, it continues to be regularly cited as the most referenced journal in the field. In 1979, the Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA) became the first research center and an integral part of Harvard's new John F. Kennedy School of Government. That same year, under Doty's leadership, the endowment for the Center rose to $6 million.
At the CSIA (renamed Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in 1997), Doty expanded his involvement in U.S.-Russia relations and non-proliferation research and activities. His many contributions to the Center include a focus on policy-related research and launch of the Center's robust research fellowship program. These remain crucial and successful elements of the Belfer Center's mission and impact today.
At a recent 90th birthday event for Doty, colleagues from his early days at Harvard praised him for his many contributions to science and to international security, including his unique ability to select future stars in their respective fields and to provide them with outstanding mentoring. These include a large number of the nearly 500 Belfer Center alumni who have gone on to leadership positions in government and academia.
"Paul Doty's dedication and strength of character have had tremendous impact on the life sciences and international security and on what is now the Belfer Center," said Belfer Center Director Graham Allison. "Paul has taken more interest, over the course of his career, in nurturing of the people whom he recruits, and in their growth, and in their success, than any faculty member I've seen at Harvard," Allison said.
In May, 2010, President Barack Obama sent Paul Doty a birthday greeting that said: "Your multiple, parallel careers as a research scientist, teacher, mentor, builder of academic departments and centers, and pioneer in the engagement of scientists in international diplomacy and arms control have been...remarkable....The legion of those who have learned from you and become leaders themselves includes my Advisor on Science and Technology John Holdren. John is effusive in his praise of your intellect, insights, accomplishments, and, above all, your work in bridging the Cold War divide to bring American and Soviet scientists together in pursuit of measures to reduce the danger of nuclear conflict. We are all in your debt."
Additional notes of praise for Paul Doty from June 2010 birthday celebration
"Paul taught us how to combine the spirit of science and the life of the mind with practical affairs. That's what the Center was about. That's what the Kennedy School was about." - Ashton B. Carter
"Paul was my mentor. There was never a finer person on the Harvard faculty." - James Watson
"What Paul did - through scientists who had contact with high officials in government on both sides - was to begin to impart a kind of seriousness to discussions of the peril of nuclear weapons....And since they were not themselves in power, they could say what they wanted to each other...That was [Paul's] great contribution. It may have saved us." -Matthew Meselson
"Looking back at [the Cold War], it's one of the great wonders of the last century that nuclear weapons did not go off....It is very much due to the community of people, of which Paul was one of the leading members. This is a moment to say thank you." - Karl Kaiser
"If you look at the record of the Center... over the course of these several decades we're going on now, [there are] 500 alumni of the Center for Science and International Affairs, now the Belfer Center. It is literally a ‘who's who' in the field of international security and arms control." - Steven Miller
"Never stop working, even when ostensibly at play. I think this is an underlying [lesson from Paul]."- Dorothy Zinberg
For additional information about Paul Doty, click here.
This article was drawn from a number of sources including transcripts of a 90th birthday celebration for Doty with colleagues from the Belfer Center and Harvard's Department of Molecular and Cellular biology in June 2010, an interview with Steven Miller, director of the Belfer Center's International Security Program, in September 2010, and an article in the fall 2005 Belfer Center newsletter.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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