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Jacques Loeb Laboratory of Marine Physiology at the Hopkins Marine Station

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Under Construction 1927

With the financial support provided by the John D. Rockefeller Foundation, a second laboratory was added to the China Point campus of the Hopkins Marine Station. The driving force behind the addition of this building to the Hopkins Marine Station was the ambitious desire by President Ray Lyman Wilbur to advance the University’s standing within a field of experimental biology. Ray Lyman Wilber came to the Presidency of Stanford in 1916, having served as Dean of the University's medical school for five years. His acceptance of the Presidency position was part of his effort of ensuring the continued existence of the medical school.11

Wilbur's goal for Stanford was two fold: 1) to convert the small, private college into a commanding research institution and 2) guarantee that a top medical school be associated the university. Advancing the field of experimental science, which the University was late to embrace, provided the path to achieve these goals. Within the research of scientific medicine, Wilbur recognized that the biological sciences established the basis for understanding results and directed further investigation. As such, Ray Lyman Wilbur saw the expansion of experimental biology and research within the medical school as interconnected with each synergistically benefitting the other and ultimately the human race.12

Wilbur's understanding and appreciation for the synergistic confluence of experimental biology and medical research was consistent with the view held by the Trustees and Scientific Directors of John D. Rockefeller Foundation as described in the Natural Sciences-Program and Policy (May 24, 1916) as follows:

In the development of the Rockefeller Institute, the Trustees and Scientific Directors have wisely determined that the work of the Institute should not be confined merely to investigations having the most obvious, direct bearing on the treatment and prevention of disease, but should also include research into chemical, physical, and biological problems that might be assigned to the realm of pure science rather than the applied science, were it not for the repeatedly demonstrated importance of maintaining this distinction.  It may fairly be maintained, therefore, that scientific truth is not only worthy of search for its own sake, but is almost certain to have sooner or later practical applications to the use and enjoyment of man.13

With Ray L Wilbur and Vernon Kellogg both on the Board of Trustees the Rockefeller Foundation, their positions played a supportive role in the receiving of funds for the Jacques Loeb Laboratory. President Wilbur, who served on the board from 1923-1940, wrote the following of his years of service to the Rockefeller Foundation: "As I look around at the various things I've done, I can think of nothing that has given me more satisfaction than the associations with the Rockefeller foundations. Nearly every decision made demanded a real sense of responsibility and was a bet on brains as well as a guess on the future.14

Beyond his being instrumental in Stanford receiving financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation for the construction of the Laboratory, it was President Wilbur who suggested the name for the new building. In a letter written March of 1926- from RL Wilbur's to Embree - is presented the idea of having the building be named "The Jacques Loeb Laboratory of Marine Physiology."15 For the next several years the building was referenced with this title in the Annual Report of the President of Stanford University (1924-1926, 1926-1928, 1928-1929).

Within the Annual Report of the President of Stanford University for 1926, WK Fisher briefly mentioned the desired intentions of Jacques Loeb Laboratory as follows:  "It is hoped that the exceptional facilities for work of a fundamental nature in biology to be made available at the Station by the completion of the new unit will be utilized by investigators from all parts of the country to the great benefit of biological science." 16

Construction completed October 1928

Completed in July of 1928, the final structure consisted of two wings of one story and a central portion two stories tall, with a front courtyard surrounded by these three wings, with the name Jacques Loeb Laboratory chiseled in large letters above the front entrance. Initially this building held several large specialized laboratories and seven private workrooms. Both the specialized laboratories and work rooms were equipped with fume hoods, alternating and direct current up to 200 volts, gas,compressed air of up to 100-pound pressure, sea-water, hot and cold fresh water, and distilled water.  Seawater was delivered through pure lead pipes that were plumed to 10, 000 gallon tank situated on a rocky elevation of land on the north-west tip of the property, allowing for the water to be gravity-fed to the aquarium tables.17  Seawater was pumped from a natural upwelling in the ocean into a reservoir situated on the top of a rocky outcropping. It then flowed into the laboratories and workspaces by gravity.

An adjacent boiler house was added during the construction of the Jacques Loeb Laboratory. In addition to the central installation for the systems of heater pipes, the boiler house contained a storeroom and machine shop. The latter was equipped with grinding apparatus for rock and shell sections, lathe, drill-press, carpenter's bench, band saw, and glass-blowing table.18

The Jacques Loeb Laboratory was filled with a collection of the state-of-the-art scientific instruments to the point that the building was the best equipped facility for physiological research at Stanford.19 Purchased for the new laboratory were numerous instruments for biophysical research, including potentiometers, colorimeters, a conductivity apparatus, an Abbe refractometer, a polarization microscope - complete with special temperature controlled microscope stages and five microphotographic cameras. Quoting Susan Spath's dissertation (1999), Lourens G. M. Baas Becking commented "that the microscopic instrumentation included "practically every microscopic accessory one might need, such as dark field, and ultra-violet systems, a monochrometer, microspectral equipment, and micro-manipulators."  For Van Niel's bacteriological laboratory was purchased the necessary research equipment: incubators, ovens, an autoclave, and a microbiological safety cabinet, equipped with lights.20

During the first year of it's completion the Jacques Loeb Laboratory housed a handful of resident investigators who, with state of the art scientific equipment went about researching a number of fundamental problems of marine life and the marine environment. In reference to these research efforts, WK Fisher stated the following in the Annual Report to the President (1928-1929): The ecological physiology of marine organisms again represents in scope and importance a field of investigation that requires the collaboration of a group of specialists.21 This statement again calls back to the letter from WK Fisher to Vernon Kellogg and the original idea of a shared workspace and meeting place for scientist that the Rockefeller Foundation was interested in supporting.

With the completion of the Jacques Loeb Laboratory, came the suggested need to properly name the first building, which simply had the words Hopkins Marine Station positioned above the upper most level of windows of the front entrance of the building. Consequently, in January 1929, the Board of Trustees of Stanford University named this building the Alexander Agassiz Laboratory, in recognition of one of America's leading oceanographers and the son of Louis Agassiz.22

A total renovation of the Jacques Loeb Laboratory was completed during 1977-78 which provided laboratories and equipment for studies on the biochemistry, physiology and development of marine animals, plants and microorganisms. Special facilities included cold rooms, constant temperature rooms, photographic darkrooms, and two electron microscope laboratories (both scanning and transmission). It was also well equipped for neurophysiological and monoclonal antibody studies. Other major equipment in Loeb included recording spectrophotometers, an atomic absorption spectrophotometer, counters, ultracentrifuges, and facilities for counters, ultracentrifuges, and facilities for scintillation and chromatography.23


11. Spath, Susan B. (1999). C. B. van Niel and the Culture of Microbiology, 1920-1965.  Thesis (Ph.D.). University of California, Berkeley.

12. Ibid.

13. Natural Sciences-Program and Policy (May 24, 1916) Application from the committee of one hundred on scientific research of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

14. Wilbur, R. L. (1960). The Memoirs of Ray Lyman Wilbur, 1875-1949.  Stanford University Press.

15. Spath, Susan B. (1999). C. B. van Niel and the Culture of Microbiology, 1920-1965.  Thesis (Ph.D.). University of California, Berkeley. [Wilbur to Embree, March 19, 1926]

16. Annual Report of the President of Stanford University For The Thirty first Academic Year ending August 31, 1926.

17. Fisher, Walter K. (1931). The Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. The Collecting Net. Vol. 6, No. 3. July 11, 1931.

18. Hopkins Marine Station Bulletin, 1930. Stanford University Bulletin.  Fifth Series, No. 86.  February 3, 1930.  Stanford University, California.

19. Spath, Susan B. (1999).  C. B. van Niel and the Culture of Microbiology, 1920-1965.  Thesis (Ph.D.). University of California, Berkeley.

20. Ibid.

21. Annual Report of the President of Stanford University For The Thirty Eighth Academic Year ending August 31, 1929. Published by the University.

22. Vaughan T. W. (1937) Catalogue of institutions engaged in oceanographic work. In International aspects of oceanography. Washington National Academy of Sciences. pp 73-225

23.Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University (brochure) 1984.1984.