George Wald

George Wald was born in New York City on November 18th, 1906. He a B.S. from Washington Square College of New York University in 1927 and did graduate work in zoology at Columbia University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1932.

The same year Wald was awarded a National Research Council Fellowship in Biology and began working in the laboratory of Otto Warburg. It was in Warburg’s lab that Wald first identified vitamin A in the retina. Vitamin A had just been isolated in the laboratory of Paul Karrer, and Wald went to Karrer's laboratory to complete the identification. He then worked with Otto Meyerhof at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Heidelberg. The second year of the fellowship was spent in the laboratories of the Department of Physiology at the University of Chicago.

Wald left Chicago for Harvard in the fall of 1934 and served as a tutor in Biochemical Sciences. Over the next 14 years Wald’s career grew and he became a full professor in 1948. He was visiting professor of biochemistry at the University of California for the summer term, 1956.

In addition to identifying vitamin A as a key factor in vision, Wald also showed which wavelengths of light the eye’s rods and cones absorb and that various proteins are responsible for light absorption. For his research he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1967.

Wald received numerous honors for his research. These include the Eli Lilly Award from the American Chemical Society; the Lasker Award of the American Public Health Association; the Proctor Medal of the Association for Research in Ophthalmology; the Rumford Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and OSA’s Frederic Ives Medal. He also received a several honorary degrees.

Wald was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Society of Biological Chemists, the Association for Research in Ophthalmology, Sigma Xi, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and OSA. 

Wald died April 12, 1997.