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James Bonner. Photo ID 10.24-26

Caltech

In the News

James Bonner's papers were donated to the Caltech Archives by his heirs following his death in 1996. They include a large correspondence section with colleagues and organizations worldwide, which is a reflection of his long-life collaboration with some of the major scientists in biology of the 20th century.

Bonner's research interests ranged from the physiology of flowering to rubber production. He was considered the world expert on rubber and for many years was the rubber consultant to the government of Malaysia. Another area of his research covered how chromosomes functions in the growth and development of plants and animals. He was also interested in finding ways in which agriculture could better provide for the world's needs.

Bonner
James Bonner in the laboratory, late 1950s. Photo ID GWB38.2-3

During his long professional career Bonner had over 300 students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting researchers that worked in his laboratory. He authored over 500 publications, including 10 books, which covered his very wide range of scientific and philosophical inquiries. The archival material reveals the role that he played in the careers of his students and young researchers and the relationships that continued with many of them well beyond their time at Caltech.

Bonner was a member of several prestigious national and international societies which included the National Academy of Science (1950); the German Academy of Science (1970); the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1970); the American Society of Plant Physiologists and the Botanical Society of America. The material in the Archives reveals the extent of his involvement in the running of these institutions.

James Bonner traveled all over the world, including climbing many mountains such as the Himalayas. Many detailed reports of his travels can be found among his papers. Skiing was his passion, and skiing vacations were considered “sacred” and never sacrificed in favor of work commitments. For many years he was part of the National Ski Patrol system.

At the age of 71, Bonner had to retire due to the institutional policies of the time, and in several letters he talks about his “forced” retirement and about the free time that he then had to dedicate to his newly founded biotech company called Phytogen. He was Phytogen chairman and chief scientist for several years.   –MS

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