James A. Shannon buildingOFFICE OF NIH HISTORY

The Office of NIH History at the National Institutes of Health exists to advance historical understanding of biomedical research within the NIH and the world. Through preserving records of significant NIH achievements, innovative exhibits, and educational programs, the Office of NIH History explores the past to enhance present understanding of the health sciences and the National Institutes of Health.



On March 17, 2015 at 1:00 p.m., NLM will host a special two-hour program, “A Tribute to Marshall Nirenberg.” The program marks the 50th anniversary of Nirenberg’s Genetic Code Charts—groundbreaking scientific documents now held in NLM’s historical collections.

Marshall Nirenberg’s Nobel Prize medal and certificate, newly given to NLM through the generous donation of his wife, Dr. Myrna Weissman, will be on display. Dr. Frank Portugal, author of The Least Likely Man: Marshall Nirenberg and the Discovery of the Genetic Code (MIT Press), and Dr. David Serlin, historian and curator of NLM’s Profiles in Science site on the Marshall Nirenberg Papers, will speak at the event. For more information and directions please visit our 2015 lectures page.

Subsequent NIH events will be announced soon.

A New Exhibition Celebrates the Origins of Modern Neurobiology

The NIH honored Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, with an exhibit of scientist's original neural cell illustrations. The exhibit opened ,on November 6, 2014, in the new Porter Neuroscience Research Center, Building 35 on the NIH Bethesda campus.

The illustrations, from the turn of the 20th century, never have been exhibited in North America and will be on loan from Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain.

Cajal was the first to describe the nervous system in exquisite detail.  He found that the individual cells (later termed "neurons") typically comprise three distinct structures.  He posited that these cells function as information processing units that employ electrical impulses to communicate within networks.

To reveal these cell structures in his tissue slides, Cajal employed a variety of staining techniques-including silver chromate-pioneered by Camillo Golgi, with whom he shared the 1906 Nobel Prize.

The Porter Center houses more than 800 scientists from 10 NIH institutes in laboratories literally without walls to enhance collaboration among the NIH's diverse community of neuroscientists.  The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the NIH Stetten Museum spearheaded the Cajal exhibit.  There is great hope that the cross-pollination within the Porter facility will encourage shifts in understanding as radical as those introduced by Cajal.

In addition to Cajal's original drawings, floor tiles will reproduce tissue slides, as Cajal saw them through his microscope, and visitors will be greeted by an almost life-size photomural that captures Cajal as the artist-scientist in his studio laboratory.



The Santiago Ramón y Cajal exhibit is located in the Porter Neuroscience Research Center atrium


Oral histories are added on a regular basis.

Marshall Nirenberg
Interview date: July 18, 1984

Constance Percy
Interview date: July 16, 1998

The Office of NIH History holds photograph collections cataloged and uncataloged. Many can be found in Search Our Collections. To request images for use in publications or presentations contact the Office of NIH History. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.


Recent publications by former fellows, based partly on their work as Stetten Fellows

David Cantor
, Stress, Shock, and Adaptation in the Twentieth Century. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2014.

Johanna Crane,
 Scrambling for Africa: AIDS, Expertise, and the Rise of American Global Health Science. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013.

Eric Boyle, Quack Medicine: A History of Combating Health Fraud in Twentieth-Century America. Praeger, 2013. A former Stetten Fellow, his first book was recently awarded Best Print Publication from the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences. Read about it at The National Museum of Health and Medicine news and events page.


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Office of History and Stetten Museum | Bldg 60 | Suite 230 | National Institutes of Health | Bethesda, MD 20814-1460
Phone: 301.496.6610 | Email: history@nih.gov

Last updated: 01 March 2015
First published: 2 February 2005
Permanence level:
Permanent: Dynamic Content