History

Johns Hopkins University’s first course in biophysics was offered in 1949. The following year, Jenkins Hall was dedicated as the center of biophysical research at the Homewood campus.

The Department of Biophysics was established in 1957 with funds from May McShane Jenkins and named in honor of her late husband Thomas Courtenay Jenkins (1866-1938), a Baltimore financier and art collector.

Mrs. Jenkins’ interest in physiotherapy and her eagerness to encourage exploration of “water, heat, and light in the treatment of disease” led her to make donations, in 1947 and 1955, for the study of biophysics at Johns Hopkins. Upon her death in 1957, the university received the bulk of her estate to endow the Thomas C. Jenkins Department of Biophysics. A final distribution took place in 2000.

In accepting Mrs. Jenkins’ 1957 bequest, Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower, then-president of Johns Hopkins, explained the significance of biophysics: “The interrelation of biology and physics is an important field of study. There are few investigators with the thorough training of both biology and physics who can do advanced work in the combined biophysics field. Johns Hopkins is performing a unique service in producing investigators who are capable of advancing biology in terms of physics and mathematics.” In that spirit, this department seeks to be a center of “fundamental” biophysical studies.

In 1953, the first chairman of biophysics, Dr. F. Keffer Hartline (1967 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine), left the university and was replaced the following year by Dr. Francis “Spike” Carlson, who was part of the faculty group to start biophysics at Johns Hopkins. He served until 1971 and, under his leadership in 1956, “fundamental studies” in biophysics was formally established as the separate Thomas C. Jenkins Department of Biophysics in the Faculty of Philosophy (the predecessor of the School of Arts and Sciences). Medicine and health studies in biophysics were placed under the Schools of Medicine and Public Health, respectively. Three years later, Jenkins Hall was expanded to its current size.

Dr. Carlson was succeeded as chairman by Dr. Warner Love (1971-74), Dr. Michael Beer (1974-80), Dr. Warner Love again (1980-83), Dr. Shin Lin (1983-96), Dr. Eaton E. Lattman (1996-2004), Dr. George Rose (2004-2007), and Dr. Bertrand Garcia-Moreno (2007-present).

In the mid-1980s, Jenkins Hall was completely renovated, allowing faculty and students to easily take advantage of the burgeoning use of computers and other new technologies. This renovation permitted the installation of a university-run computer lab. The building has been upgraded several times since the renovation, most recently in 2007. An x-ray crystallography lab was added in 2000.