Celebrating the Life and Career of Professor Emeritus Paul Doty

December 21, 2010
by Sharon Wilke, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

We celebrate the life and career of Paul Doty, emeritus professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and founder and director emeritus of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  At 90, he continues his outstanding contributions to Harvard and the global community through his ongoing research, insights, and guidance.

Paul Doty remembers his excitement the day he was to begin chemistry his junior year of high school. He had a small lab at his house in Chicora, Pennsylvania, and couldn't wait for his first chemistry class. As it turned out, the teacher's "acquaintance with chemistry was extremely modest," and after a few days of being corrected by his student, the teacher turned the class over to Doty. "Why don't you teach chemistry?" he asked.

That experience, Doty said, was one of several "lucky" events that directed his trajectory toward what was to become an outstanding career in chemistry, biochemistry, arms control, and international security. Another was his mother's wish for him to go to the local college and to teach in the same wooden schoolhouse he attended. That scenario's lack of appeal was enough to motivate Doty to win acceptance from Penn State, where he earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry. Having distinguished himself there, he went on to graduate school at Columbia University to study physical chemistry.

At Columbia in 1941, the atmosphere was electric. Pearl Harbor was attacked, the war was on, papers were being published on splitting the atom, and several prominent scholars in that field were at Columbia. Doty began attending classes taught by Enrico Fermi, Isadore I. Rabi, Edward Teller, and Harold Urey. "It was all in the air," he said, remembering one day when he got on the elevator and there was Danish physicist Nils Bohr. Bohr had just escaped from Denmark, "so one just had to put the dots together."

The seed was planted - Columbia, 1941

Before long, Paul Doty was working the night shift on the Manhattan Project, trying to separate uranium isotopes. Many of his professors soon "disappeared" from campus, but he stayed to earn his Ph.D. with a 14-page dissertation - and the seed was planted for his future work in science and arms control.

From Columbia, Doty went to Cambridge University with a fellowship and a growing interest in molecular biology. While there, he traveled around Europe on lecture tours. "It was a wonderful eye opening time," he said.

In 1948, Harvard offered Doty an assistant professorship, and Harvard's chemistry department became his home base. With his wife, Helga Boedtker, he built a world-renowned lab which she helped manage for four decades. A record-setting ten of Doty's 100 research students were later elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

A game changer - Pugwash, 1957

As president of the Federation of American Scientists in 1957, Doty was invited to a meeting in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, to follow up on the 1955 global appeal by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einsteinto control nuclear weapons and prevent a world war. The meeting for Doty was a "game changer." 

Scientific diplomacy and arms control - Russia, 1958

Doty's trip to Russia in 1958 convinced him that he could help prevent the use of nuclear weapons by working with Soviet scientists outside official channels. In the following years, he made more than 40 trips to the Soviet Union to promote careful examination of the technical aspects related to nuclear arms control and avoiding nuclear war. Doty was group leader for visits with top Russian scientists who included two vice presidents of the Soviet Academy of Scientists and the physicist and bomb-maker turned dissident and future Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov. Shortly after one meeting in Sakharov's Moscow flat, the dissident was arrested by Krushchev's forces and exiled to Gorky for six years.

The U.S.-Russia efforts led by Doty were especially successful because many of the scientists later became influential advisors to President Mikhail Gorbachev, whose actions would help end the Cold War. 

Another game changer - Kennedy, 1960

John F. Kennedy's election as president in 1960 was another game changer for Doty - a time when his interest in nuclear issues and arms control got a tremendous boost.

"I got touched by Kennedy's style and substance," he says, "and also stimulated by the Daedalus arms control [work] in 1960."

Doty was invited to join President Kennedy's science advisory council and helped formulate nuclear arms control proposals. He formed a National Academy of Sciences committee to oversee the exchange of Soviet and American scientists for research purposes and later convinced the Academy to establish the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC).

Birth of the Belfer Center, 1974

Doty's interest in the intersection of science and international affairs continued to grow, and in 1973 he convinced McGeorge Bundy, then president of the Ford Foundation, to support a Harvard center for science and international affairs and several other security centers around the world.

In 1974, Doty launched what is now the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, continuing half time with his biochemistry. A year later, Doty founded and became editor of the Center's International Security journal. Now, under Steve Miller's editorship, it continues to be regularly cited as the most referenced journal in the field. In 1979, the Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA) became the first research center and an integral part of Harvard's new John F. Kennedy School of Government. That same year, under Doty's leadership, the endowment for the Center rose to $6 million.

At the CSIA (renamed Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in 1997), Doty expanded his involvement in U.S.-Russia relations and non-proliferation research and activities. His many contributions to the Center include a focus on policy-related research and launch of the Center's robust research fellowship program. These remain crucial and successful elements of the Belfer Center's mission and impact today.

"Paul Doty's dedication and strength of character have had tremendous impact on the life sciences and international security and on what is now the Belfer Center," said Belfer Center Director Graham Allison. "Paul has taken more interest, over the course of his career, in nurturing of the people whom he recruits, and in their growth, and in their success, than any faculty member I've seen at Harvard," Allison said.

In May, 2010, President Barack Obama sent Doty a birthday greeting that said: "Your multiple, parallel careers as a research scientist, teacher, mentor, builder of academic departments and centers, and pioneer in the engagement of scientists in international diplomacy and arms control have been...remarkable....The legion of those who have learned from you and become leaders themselves includes my Advisor on Science and Technology John Holdren. John is effusive in his praise of your intellect, insights, accomplishments, and, above all, your work in bridging the Cold War divide to bring American and Soviet scientists together in pursuit of measures to reduce the danger of nuclear conflict. We are all in your debt."

Read the full article on the Belfer Center website: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/20546/celebrating_
paul_doty_belfer_center_founder_at_90.html

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Photograph of Paul Doty and President Kennedy

Paul Doty (left) with President John F. Kennedy and MIT President Jerome Wiesner, 1960. Both served on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

"Paul Doty's dedication and strength of character have had tremendous impact on the life sciences and international security and on what is now the Belfer Center," said Belfer Center Director Graham Allison. "Paul has taken more interest, over the course of his career, in nurturing of the people whom he recruits, and in their growth, and in their success, than any faculty member I've seen at Harvard," Allison said.

Photograph of Paul Doty at JFK Jr. Forum event.

Paul Doty (left) asks a question at a JFK Jr. Forum titled “Nuclear Tipping Point: Did Obama's Summit Change the Balance?” May 4, 2010.