Waclaw Szybalski on Martha Chase
  Waclaw Szybalski     Biography    
Recorded: 11 May 2001

So anyway, after the meeting, I run into Martha, very sure I already met because we lived in the same house…sorry… I am wrong. I lived across the harbor, but we ate in the same place in Carnegie dormitory, what is it called now? The one on… the, the colorful house, It was called Davenport, but we were calling it Carnegie Dormitory. Yes, Davenport, yes. So we ate there, that was the place where some people and guests are staying and some people live. And so I talked to…I said, “Martha it’s a beautiful experiment I like to congratulate it. I really enjoyed listening, now I have great…(pause) I just saw you. You are a pretty girl, but I thought you were just a pretty girl, now I know you are a good scientist.” So [Martha Chase] said, “Hrumph—I was just doing it for money and it’s not enough money.” So she started to complain how little she is paid. She didn’t have absolutely any appreciation that she’s historical experiment. She just complained through this and I can’t remember where _______(unclear, please clarify) immediately because anyway I want to know what more experiment is. I was invite you in the evening to go for pizza and go dancing. So I took her dancing at night and so we would learn more about experiment etc. and (pause)…and yeah, and I got some sort of disappointment because as I say she was too much complaining about money and also she didn’t dance very well (laugher). She was American. Young ladies were not very good unless they were, you know, high class and well, you know, internationally traveled etc. so we were very good friends in our space but I never fell in love with her. It was amazing to walk into the laboratory when I went to see Hershey, together working, there was absolute silence. He was making sign and she was making signs and never talked to each other. It was very difficult to squeeze out of. She smoked heavily which I disapproved [of] very much. And she talked very little. And I met her later. She came once back, her life got very complicated because of her experiment, etc. people thought she should get Ph.D. etc. Max Delbrück decided to push her towards scientific career…against her better sense, and she met Dick Epstein, which was one of the prominent phage virologists. Very nice guy, but happy go lucky etc. They got married and that lasted very short because he… I don’t know why they ever got married or why he got married etc. and that fell apart and that left her very deep scar and she got very depressed and her science career didn’t work and she came here and she was at that time smoking heavily and drinking very heavily and her face swelled and she was partially overweight. She was always in alcohol and [it was] very difficult to talk to her. Not making any sense. She was always telling me earlier that she’s from Cleveland. She had a very deep Midwest accent. I was…here was this nice light girl and she all of a sudden says (imitates a sharp nasal Midwestern accent). And she’s says she upset, always she hating her mother, think the first time I took her dancing she already told me she hates her mother. When she was here so many years later, I say. “Where are you?” [Martha Chase says] “Well, I have no job…nothing, I live with my mother.” So I couldn’t resist, I said, “But you didn’t you hated your mother.” [Martha Chase replied,] “I still hate my mother but I have no other place to live.” That was the last time I saw her. I don’t know whether she is alive or what she is doing.

Waclaw Szybalski is an authority on molecular biology, genetics and microbiology. He earned his Ph.D. at the Gdansk Institute of Technology in Poland and joined the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1950s where he is now Professor Emeritus of Oncology in the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research.

Szybalski is known for the many significant contributions he has made throughout his career, beginning with his studies on mutagenesis and continuing through his contributions to genomics. He was among the first to formulate the concept of multi-drug antibiotic therapy.

Szybalski has also participated in the Human Genome Project.

Szybalski is the founder and head of many editorial boards including that of the journal Gene.

A long-time meeting and course participant at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Szybalski was a friend and contemporary of many pioneers in the field of genetics, including Alfred Hershey, Martha Chase, Max Delbrück, and Barbara McClintock.