Columbia University Fly Room
In retrospect, The Fly Room seems surprisingly small, measuring only 16 x 23 feet and containing eight desks. Yet, it housed a stream of Columbia University students as well as foreign visitors and soon received wide recognition, not only for the remarkable quality and clarity of its science but also for the democratic nature of its social interaction. Thomas Hunt Morgan encouraged the free exchange of ideas in an atmosphere that was at once friendly, yet self-critical.
The Squid Lunch – The Fly Room, Columbia University, 1925
There can have been few times and places in scientific laboratories with such an atmosphere of excitement and with such a record of sustained enthusiasm.
In terms of the work conducted there, the science that began at Columbia spread to laboratories all over the world as Morgan, the members of his group, and the scientists they trained helped to shape the course of biology during the decades that followed.
Of the people who worked with Morgan directly or who worked with one of his students, five went on to win their own Nobel Prize: Muller, Beadle, Lederberg, and Lewis. Another student, Dobzhansky, went on to place evolution into a modern biological context. Impelled by their achievements, the center of influence in biology shifted from Europe to the United States, making the twentieth century an American Century in biology.
At the same time, the open, critical, yet fully democratic and egalitarian atmosphere that was evident in the Fly Room soon came to characterize the distinctively American atmosphere of university research -an especially significant development as American graduate education increasingly became the model for graduate education throughout the world.