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Visible Influence

The Waksman Foundation for Microbiology throughout its history drew dedicated trustees who built its reputation for initiating and supporting excellent scientific research, programs, and education.

It began with Selman A. Waksman. He was a brilliant scientist, but his granddaughter remembers his warmth and generosity.

“He was at the antibiotic age’s forefront,” says Nan Waksman Schanbacher ’72. “He wanted his discoveries to help mankind.”

Awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1952 for his discovery of the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis, he used his personal royalties to launch the foundation.

Selman’s son Byron Waksman ’40—Schanbacher’s late father and a pioneer in his own right in neuroimmunology—was the second president and led the foundation for three decades. His granddaughter had served as vice president and chair of the board since 2007.

“It gave me the opportunity to meet and work with wonderful people I respect, admire, and love,” she says. “It is a family legacy of which I am enormously proud.”

Although the foundation ultimately closed for financial reasons, its mission lives on via bequests to a variety of institutions, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, The Marine Biological Laboratory, and Swarthmore College to support the Summer Scholars Program.

“Nan’s so dedicated to science education while keeping the focus on microbiology,” says Amy Cheng Vollmer, Swarthmore’s Isaac H. Clothier Jr. Professor of Biology and the foundation’s fourth and final president. “She’s worked hard to make sure the world won’t forget her family’s contributions.”

“Science education in the U.S. has deteriorated, and the public has become increasingly ignorant about how science works and why it is important,” says Schanbacher. “We continuously sought ways to play a part in reversing those trends.”