The Rockefeller University

The Rockefeller University is the world’s leading biomedical research university and is dedicated to conducting innovative, high-impact research to improve the understanding of life for the benefit of humanity. The David Rockefeller Graduate Program in Bioscience provides a select group of highly motivated students the opportunity to become the scientific leaders of tomorrow.


In 1901, founder John D. Rockefeller Sr. and director Simon Flexner rejected the structures of that era’s academic and medical institutions to establish the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. Inspired by the new research centers in Europe, including the Koch and Pasteur Institutes, the new Rockefeller Institute was organiQzed around independent investigators, without departments, and its mission included the study of any science that might shed light on health and disease. Scientific talent, not field of study, was the chief criterion for hiring. In 1953, the Rockefeller Institute incorporated as a graduate university. The university accepted its first class of students into the Ph.D. program in 1955, and in 1959 it held its first convocation ceremony to confer degrees on an inaugural class of graduates

Vision and Mission

The Rockefeller University’s mission is to conduct science for the benefit of humanity. That mission has not changed since the university’s founding in 1901, providing an unparalleled continuity of purpose. The university recruits the best biomedical scientists in the world, regardless of discipline, and provides them with comprehensive support in an environment of excellence, freeing them to pursue big ideas and achieve transformational discoveries. There are no mandatory teaching or administrative responsibilities and no departments or hierarchical restrictions. The university’s exceptional scientists and unique culture have produced a century of ongoing leadership in basic and clinical discoveries.

Size and Scope

The university’s 82 laboratories are loosely clustered into nine research areas:

  • Chemical and structural biology
  • Genetics and genomics
  • Immunology, virology, and microbiology
  • Medical sciences, systems physiology, and human genetics
  • Molecular and cell biology
  • Neuroscience and behavior
  • Organismal biology and evolution
  • Physical, mathematical, and computational biology
  • Stem cells, development, regeneration, and aging

Importantly, these areas of research interest are not analogous to departments – there are no chairs, and there is no administrative hierarchy.

The community of 1,800 faculty, graduate students, postdocs, technicians, clinicians, and administrative personnel work on the 16-acre campus in New York City.


The Rockefeller University’s unique approach to science has led to some of the world’s most revolutionary and transformative contributions to biology and medicine. Since it’s founding in 1901, 25 scientists associated with the university have won Nobel Prizes, 23 have won Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards, and 20 have garnered the National Medal of Science, the highest science award given by the United States.

In 1913, Oswald T. Avery came to The Rockefeller Institute Hospital to study differences in virulence among strains of pneumococcus, a bacterium that causes severe pneumonia. Avery’s research led to the development of the first vaccine for pneumococcal pneumonia, but it also led him and colleagues Colin M. MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty to make an unexpected discovery in 1944: that DNA is the substance that transmits hereditary information, a finding that would set the course for biological research for the rest of the century.

Peyton Rous was the first investigator to deduce that cancer can be caused by a virus. Other Rockefeller researchers modernized the science of cell biology in the 1940s and 50s. Making use of the newly developed electron microscope, which provided magnification hundreds of thousands of times that of traditional light microscopes, Rockefeller scientists were the first to see inside cells and identify the distinct structures within.

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