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Papers of Martin Rivers Pollock

Identifier: Coll-1586

Scope and Contents

Section A, Biographical, is very slight. It includes an obituary and a copy of Pollock's curriculum vitae. Of particular note are correspondence and papers relating to Pollock's difficulties in obtaining a visa to visit the USA in 1967 and 1970.

Section B, Medical Research Council, documents Pollock's time at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Mill Hill, London, from 1948 to 1964, shortly before his departure for Edinburgh. It is not a large section. There are copies of contributions to the Institute's annual reports from Pollock's Department of Bacterial Physiology but the single largest component is material relating to a course run at the NIMR on 'Enzymic basis of variation in Microorganisms' in the years 1961-1962. Further material relating to the day-to-day administration of the Department of Bacterial Physiology is to be found in section L, Correspondence, in Pollock's correspondence with the two Directors under whom he served, C.R. Harington and P.B. Medawar.

Section C, University of Edinburgh, is not extensive. However, it does include significant material relating to the events leading up to the establishment of the Department of Molecular Biology at Edinburgh, including the initial approaches from M.M. Swann, then Dean of the Science Faculty at Edinburgh, and subsequent material relating to the terms and conditions under which Pollock worked, staffing and accommodation. There is a little material relating to relations with other departments of the university including correspondence and papers relating to a planned 'Institute of Artificial Intelligence' that would bring together experts from a number of departments and for which Pollock was a leading advocate.

Section D, Research, offers interesting if extremely patchy coverage of Pollock's research work. There is a significant group of notes and data on research on bacterial toxins from 1941 to 1945, and some material relating to work on the 'genocycles' in the early 1950s, penicillinase in the 1960s and bacterial genetics in the early 1970s. The section also has an extensive collection of Pollock's notes on the literature, most of which appear to date from the 1960s, and a little material 1972-1973 relating to a consultancy with the Japanese company Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co. Ltd for which he was asked to give an expert opinion on the production of L-lysine by fermentation. Further documentation on Pollock's work on bacterial toxins and penicillinase may be found in section L, Correspondence, which includes many letters in which Pollock reports on work in progress.

Section E, Drafts and publications, presents a chronological series of drafts, published and unpublished, from an undergraduate dissertation of c 1934 to an historical account of the Department of Molecular Biology of 1986. Although it is very far from being a complete record of Pollock's output, it does indicate the progression of his scientific research over the years. There is also a significant sequence of editorial correspondence with journals and publishers.

Section F, Lectures and broadcasts, includes public and invitation lectures from 1948 to 1977. There are detailed scientific lectures outlining work in progress and overviews of the field, as well as lectures of a more general and philosophical nature considering implications and opportunities in scientific advance. There is good coverage of three of Pollock's most important lectures, the 2nd Louis Rapkine Lecture on 'The secretion of enzymes by bacteria', which he delivered in French at the University of Paris in 1960, the 3rd Griffith Memorial Lecture of the Society for General Microbiology on 'The discovery of DNA', 1970, and the 1975 J.D. Bernal Peace Library lecture on 'Freedom in Science'. There is a very slight record of Pollock's University teaching in section C. Pollock made a number of broadcasts for BBC Radio and television and educational films, and some record of this is to be found in this section.

Section G, Visits and conferences, has two main parts. The first presents a partial record of Pollock's visits and attendance at conferences from 1947. Among the visits recorded here are those to India in 1973 and 1980, to Mexico and Cuba in 1961 and Mexico in 1983, and a 'World Tour' in 1957. However, the correspondence in section L includes frequent references to visits made or planned that are not documented at all in this section, including his visits to the USA. The second main component of the section, comprising the bulk of the material, relates to a 1981 Conference on Common Denominators in Art and Science held at the University of Edinburgh. Although Pollock had retired from Edinburgh some years earlier, this conference was very much Pollock's inspiration. It brought together scientists, philosophers and artists to discuss similarities and differences between their approaches to knowledge. Pollock helped organise the conference - there is a remarkably comprehensive sequence of his correspondence with prospective speakers and participants, possible funding bodies etc - and the publication of the proceedings. At G.82 are a number of invitations to visit declined by Pollock or for which there is no evidence of acceptance. Pollock visited a number of countries to give specific lectures; some of this material can be found in section F, Lectures and broadcasts. Material relating to symposia organised by the Ciba Foundation can be found in section H.

Section H, Societies and organisations, brings together material relating to Pollock's involvement with sixteen British and international organisations. It includes scientific, professional and educational bodies. Again, the record is very partial. The best documented bodies are the Ciba Foundation, the Louis Rapkine Association, which Pollock helped to establish, the Royal Society and the Society for General Microbiology, of which he was a founder member.

Section J, Politics, brings together material that reflects Pollock's political concerns in their broadest sense. He was on the Left politically and much of the material relates to his active support for political causes associated with the Left, including the social responsibility of scientists and nuclear disarmament, as well as support for academic freedom and human rights in general. The largest body of material relates to the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science and to two bodies associated with it, the Working Group on International Responsibility of Scientists - of which Pollock was the convenor - and the Edinburgh Society for Social Responsibility in Science (ESSRS). Much of the material relating to the ESSRS concerns a 'Teach-in' on Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) at Edinburgh University in January 1969. The issue of CBW remained a concern of Pollock's thereafter. There is also correspondence and papers relating to the World Federation of Scientific Workers and material on human rights, freedom of speech and related issues, arranged alphabetically by country.

Section K, Non-text material, presents tape recordings of the proceedings of two conferences which Pollock helped to organise, the Edinburgh 'Teach-in' on Chemical and Biological Warfare, 24 January 1969 (J.14-J.24) and the Conference on Common Denominators in Art and Science, Edinburgh, November 1981 (G.21-G.81).

Section L, Correspondence, is by far the most substantial and comprehensive section in the collection. Pollock kept his correspondence - incoming letters and carbon copies of outgoing letters - in a single alphabetical sequence ordered by correspondent and this arrangement has been retained. It includes correspondence with some of the most distinguished biochemists, microbiologists and molecular biologists of the day, including E.P. Abraham, M. Cohn, F.H.C. Crick, E.F. Gale, W.E. van Heyningen, J. Mandelstam, J. Monod, G. Pontecorvo, R.Y. Stanier and C.H. Waddington, as well as significant correspondence with researchers who came to work under Pollock at the NIMR (including his colleague M.H. Richmond) and colleagues abroad, particularly in Hungary, to whom Pollock gave encouragement. The bulk of the correspondence is scientific in nature and dates from the 1950s and 1960s. There are exchanges of information on research in progress and planned, requests for strains and specimens of research material, scientific publications and conferences (including a number not documented in section G), arrangements for visitors working with Pollock at the NIMR etc. The correspondence sheds light on areas not covered elsewhere in the collection, thus Pollock's wartime work with the Emergency Public Health Laboratory Service in the 1940s, virtually undocumented otherwise, features in his correspondence with R. Knox. Also of note is correspondence relating to the day-to-day administration of the Department of Bacterial Physiology at the NIMR represented by correspondence with the two Directors under whom Pollock served, C.R. Harington and P.B. Medawar. Many colleagues were also friends and the letters may include personal and social news, expressions of political views and career advice. There is also an index of correspondents.

[NB: there is no "Section I" in the original handlist]


  • Creation: ca 1934-2000


Biographical / Historical

Martin Rivers Pollock was born on 10 December 1914, the son of Hamilton Rivers Pollock and Eveline Morton Pollock. He attended Winchester College before gaining a place at Trinity College Cambridge in 1933 (Senior Scholarship 1936). At Cambridge he studied Medicine (pre-clinical), moving to University College Hospital Medical School, London to complete his medical training in 1937-1939. He qualified M.B., B.Chir. in 1940.

Pollock held hospital appointments at University College Hospital and Brompton Chest Hospital 1939-1941 before joining the Emergency Public Health Laboratory Service as a Bacteriologist in 1941. In 1943 he was seconded to a Medical Research Council unit to work on infective hepatitis. In 1945 Pollock was formally taken onto the staff of the Medical Research Council. He worked at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Mill Hill, London, initially under Sir Paul Fildes before being appointed Head of the Division of Bacterial Physiology in 1949. He remained at the NIMR to 1965, spending two periods (1948 and 1952-1953) studying in the laboratory of Jacques Monod at the Institut Pasteur, Paris. Pollock had for some years being considering the possibility of establishing a unit for teaching and research in molecular biology, which would bring together bacterial genetics and biochemistry, and a number of possible locations had been evaluated. M.M. Swann, the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Edinburgh, persuaded Pollock to move north and in 1965 Pollock was appointed Professor of Biology at Edinburgh. Shortly afterwards, his colleague William Hayes moved from the MRC Unit for Bacterial Genetics at Hammersmith Hospital London. Together they established at Edinburgh the Department of Molecular Biology, the first such teaching department in the world. Pollock took early retirement in 1976, moving to Dorset. He took no further active part in scientific research but maintained his growing interest in the relationship between science and art, organising a major conference on the subject in 1981. He died in December 1999. Pollock's thirty years of scientific research from the end of the Second World War, both at the NIMR and Edinburgh University, focused on enzyme induction in bacteria. He studied the mechanism by which beta-lactamase enzymes (particularly penicillinase) are involved in the development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. For his contributions in this area Pollock was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1962. In the 1970s Pollock became interested in developments in biotechnology and artificial intelligence, encouraging interdepartmental cooperation in these areas.


32 boxes, ca 1,000 items

Physical Location

CLX-A-514 to CLX-A-545

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Martin Rivers Pollock FRS (1914-1999) by Timothy E. Powell and Peter Harper, NCUACS catalogue no. 111/10/02, 188 pp. National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath. Hard copy available in the CRC's reading room (Handlist "Coll-1586").

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the University Library in 2003. Accession no. E2003.37.

Donated by Julian Pollock in 2003.

Related Materials

Records of the Department of Molecular Biology 1957-1993.

The bulk of Pollock's collection of material relating to the Edinburgh University 'Teach in' on Chemical and Biological Warfare in 1969 was given by him to the University of Bradford Department of Peace Studies.

Papers of Martin Rivers Pollock
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379