Programmer, Peptide Synthesizer

Description (Brief)
Proteins, which are among the most diverse and important molecules in the natural world, are built from long chains of smaller molecules known as amino acids. In the early 1960s, scientists synthesized proteins by assembling amino acids into chains one by one. The time-consuming reaction required crystallization and purification of the product after each addition of an amino acid “link” to the protein chain.
In 1963 Bruce Merrifield, a biochemist at Rockefeller University in New York, described a new method for making short-chain proteins from scratch. His reaction, known as solid phase peptide synthesis, eliminated the need to crystalize and purify the product. This breakthrough greatly increased yields and opened the door for scientists to synthesize a wider variety of proteins. Merrifield’s work won him the 1984 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Much of today’s industrial production of complex organic molecules still relies on Merrifield’s original reaction.
In 1965 Merrifield and his partners, John Stewart and Nils Jernberg, built a machine that automated the chemical reaction. Their peptide synthesizer, consisting of a programmer and a reaction vessel, was the first protein-making machine. This object is the original programmer.
Currently not on view
date made
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 28 in x 21 1/2 in x 18 in; 71.12 cm x 54.61 cm x 45.72 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
Credit Line
Gift of Rockefeller University through Bruce Merrifield
Science & Scientific Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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