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Election Year: 1958
Scientific Discipline: Biophysics and Computational Biology
Membership Type: Member
Bruno Zimm’s research with polymers laid the groundwork for modern practices in synthetic and biological chemistry. He developed ways to analyze the physical properties of immense molecules, which had lasting implications for numerous areas of research and industry.
Zimm earned his bachelors and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, where, during World War II, he studied the light-scattering property of smokes. In 1944 he began teaching at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and researching biological and synthetic macromolecules. Zimm moved to a faculty position at the University of California (UC) Berkeley, in 1946, turning his attention to how light-scattering theory could be used to determine high molecular weights. During this time he invented the Zimm plot diagram to express various properties of macromolecules.
Zimm joined the General Electric Research Laboratory in 1951 and remained with the company for ten years. He published the Zimm-Bragg theory of transition between helix and coil for polypeptides during this time, as well as a fundamental description of polymer dynamics. In 1960, Zimm joined the faculty at UC San Diego, where he remained for the rest of his life, inventing new methods and tools to study the properties of molecules like DNA and polystyrene.
Zimm was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as several other scientific societies. He received the National Academy of Sciences Award in the Chemical Sciences in 1981.