Correspondence relating to posts held by Pontecorvo, and readerships and other appointments he applied for throughout his career in various UK and international instutions

Scope and Content

Despite his love of Glasgow and his determination to establish a successful Department of Genetics there, Pontecorvo applied for positions in many other UK and international universities and research institutions over the years. The correspondence shows his frustration over the lack of funding and the obstacles obstructing the development of his Genetics Department at Glasgow and the reasons he considered moving to ather academic institutions. However, despite many generous offers of readerships and professorships in research departments around the world Pontecorvo turned them all down and remained in the UK.

His correspondence and papers show what was holding him back and what he thought of the state of the teaching of genetics and developments in genetics research in other UK and international universities and colleges. The correspondence also highlights his network of influential friends and colleagues who offered opinions and support when he was faced with difficult decisions. Therefore, despite not accepting many of the positions offered to him throughout his career, this section of correspondence relating to job applications is valuable in that it offers an insight into Pontecorvo's ambitions and his opinions of genetics research and teaching in in the mid twentieth century.

Most of the bundles of correspondence contain original letters from correspondents, as well as manuscript or carbon copies of Pontecorvo's responses.

Administrative / Biographical History

After his postgraduate studies, and two years of compulsory military service, Pontecorvo worked with E Avanzi, (the plant geneticist he had met while he was studying at the Faculty of Agriculture in the University of Pisa) who was now director of an experimental agricultural institute in Trento. Pontecorvo soon moved to Florence to lead the cattle breeding program of the Tuscan Ispettorato Compartimentale Agrario. Here, for eight years, he organized the recording and use of weight gain and draught ability data in a successful selective breeding program applied to the Chiana and Maremmana breeds. In 1937 he went on a tour of animal breeding centres, including the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh and was introduced to Alick Buchanan-Smith.

In 1938, when Pontecorvo was dismissed from the Department of Agriculture for Tuscany due to Nazi inspired racial laws, Buchanan-Smith helped him secure a scholarship in Edinburgh. Pontecorvo's intention was to stay for a year then continue on to Peru to take up an animal breeding Government contract. But the contract was cancelled when war broke out and Pontecorvo was stranded in Scotland. It was while working at Edinburgh University that he met, and was inspired by the geneticist Hermann Jospeh Muller, and became interested in his ideas on the nature of the gene. He gave up animal breeding work and embarked on a PhD supervised by Muller.

In 1940 Italy declared war and, as a result, Pontecorvo was interred on the Isle of Man with other "enemy" aliens, while his Swiss wife, Leni, was advised to move to the west coast of Scotland as she was regarded as an enemy alien by marriage. Enemy aliens were not permitted to stay on the east coast of the UK where there was a supposed danger of invasion. So Leni moved to Glasgow and received hospitality from the wife of Edward Hindle, Professor of Zoology at the University of Glasgow, who also arranged some research space for Pontecorvo when he was released in January 1941. He worked with Hindle in the Zoology Department from 1941-1943. After a brief spell of lecturing back in Edinburgh in 1945-1945 Pontecorvo returned to Glasgow and took up the post of Lecturer in Genetics in the Department of Zoology in 1945, the first of its kind.

He set up the new Department of Genetics in the Anatomy laboratories of the Anderson College building soon afterwards. He became a Reader in 1952, and, in 1955, became the person first to be appointednewChair of Genetics at the University. In He left Glasgow in 1968 to take a post at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's laboratories in London.


Material is arranged chronlogically and grouped together in bundles of correspondence relating to specifici institutions or job offers just as it was found. Kept in the original order within each bundle.