Norton Zinder, a New Yorker, received his A.B. degree from Columbia University in 1947 and went on to the University of Wisconsin where he received a PhD in 1952. As a graduate student he discovered bacterial transduction showing that bacteriophages can carry genetic material from a donor to recipient bacteria. He returned to New York in 1952 to Rockefeller University (then known as The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research) as an Assistant. At Rockefeller he was appointed an Associate in 1956, Associate Professor in 1958 and professor in 1964 at which time he was also appointed Dean of Graduate and Post Graduate Studies. In 1977 he was designated the John D. Rockefeller Professor of Molecular Genetics. During these years he made significant findings regarding small RNA and DNA infected with bacteriophages and continued his molecular biology research until his retirement from Rockefeller University in 1989.
He served in the national policy arena as a member of the Board of Army Science and Technology and as the chair of the NIH committee to review the National Cancer plan and on the advisory committee of the human genome project. Elected to the National Academy of Science in 1969, he served on committees addressing Recombinant DNA, overseeing the disposal of US chemical weapon stockpiles and chemical warfare defense. He has been a member of the Visiting Committees at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Duke Universities. Zinder also served on the Board of Trustees (also served as Secretary to the Board) of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory from 1967 to 1986. Dr. Zinder died in New York on February 3, 2012 at the age of 83.
The Norton Zinder Collection at CSHL Library and Archives is composed of material accrued by Zinder as a student (Columbia University, University of Wisconsin), professor (Rockefeller University), and as a pioneering researcher in the field of molecular biology. The collection includes course notebooks, lecture notes and teaching files, scientific papers, correspondence, photographs, memorabilia, clippings, and material related to his fifty year career at Rockefeller University. Specifically, the Biographical series includes 5 boxes of his notes and correspondence while an undergraduate and graduate student; as well as his thesis draft, family speeches, and 1962-1994 Rockefeller University photos. The Rockefeller University series includes 89 boxes of lab notebooks and slides, administrative correspondence, and an additional 42 boxes of reprints. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory series is composed of 7 boxes of Board of Directors correspondence, minutes, blueprints and memorabilia. The Governmental Activities series of 52 boxes includes National Academy of Science (NAS) activities; the Human Genome Project; testimony before various governmental entities, and unclassified armed forces documents from National Research Council activities.