Action ﬁgures, dolls, coins, stamps, baseball cards — hobbyists collect all kinds of things these days. But if you’re Orville J.Golub your hobby is anything but typical. Golub, a graduate of UC Berkeley’s doctoral program in Bacteriology (PhD 1944), hasbeen collecting microscopes of historic and scientiﬁc signiﬁcance since the 1960s. A testament to the centuries of scientiﬁc work that have preceded us,these relics are both fascinating and aesthetically beautiful.
For years, Golub’s collection was displayed in his house, viewable only to those who had the pleasure of visiting him and his wife at their home in Los Angeles. However, thanks to the generosity of the Golubs, UC Berkeley students, aﬃliates, and visitors can now view a portion of the glorious microscope collection here on campus. The Golub Collection, bequeathed to the Regents of the University of California by Dr. Golub and his wife, Ellina Marx Golub (BA 1939), now rests in the Onderonk Lobby of the Valley Life Sciences Building. At last count, the collection contained forty-eight microscopes from the 17th through 20th centuries.
An affair begins
How does one ignite a love aﬀair with microscopes? Like many of its kind, this relationship began as a consequence of circumstance. Golub entered graduate school in the Bacteriology Department at UC Berkeley in 1937, a time that he concedes “seems prehistoric.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Golub’s teaching assistantship in bacteriology required the frequent use of microscopes. Gazing into the secret worlds of tiny bacteria became a pleasant daily routine. However, Golub’s routine was brieﬂy interrupted when he was suddenly called into active duty a year before America entered World War II. Having completed his graduate courses but not the research required for his PhD, he was fortuitously assigned to work in the US Navy Research Unit on the 5th ﬂoor of the Valley Life Sciences Building under the guidance of his graduate advisor, Dr. Albert Krueger. Golub worked with the Navy Research Unit throughout the war, managed to complete his thesis on the inﬂuenza virus, and was awarded his PhD in 1944.
After the war ended in 1945, Golub accepted a position in the Virus Division at Fort Detrick, Maryland, which was then the headquarters for the government’s work on biological warfare with Army, Navy, and civilian scientists. While there, Golub became friends with three other men who, after a couple of years, were anxious to apply their skills and innovative minds to something new. Their common desire to explore ideas without the red-tape rigors of working for the government led to the development of a Los Angeles-based company called Bio-Science Laboratories in 1948. This was not your typical 1940s lab, but rather an innovative and progressive reference clinical laboratory. While many clinical labs performed standard laboratory procedures, Bio-Science Laboratories took the task a step further by carrying out new research and publishing frequently in the scientiﬁc literature. Thee Laboratory rose to be a leader in the clinical ﬁeld and was called upon by doctors and hospitals both nationally and overseas to perform procedures such as hormone, toxicological, and chromosomal analyses as well as bacteriological and immunological assays. Although most of these procedures are commonplace in the medical ﬁeld today, Golub reminds us that “lab life was diﬀerent back then” and these now-common procedures required a specialized laboratory, a niche for which Bio-Science Laboratories was perfectly designed.
Continuing with their trend of originality, the company began to build a collection of old laboratory equipment for the aesthetic enjoyment of their clients and employees. They envisioned that this collection would include blood counting equipment, balances, glassware, specialty books, and microscopes. As avid travelers, Golub and his wife were already accustomed to acquiring laboratory relics on their trips to Europe. For this reason, collecting mementos for the Laboratory’s collection was merely an extension of their chief diversion. However, as the “lab equipment” collection grew, it soon became clear that the pair was showing signs of favoritism for the microscopes. One of Golub’s partners noticed this trend and suggested that he “try to get more variety.” As the Laboratory’s collection neared completion, Golub approached a crossroads. He could either put his collecting career to rest, or continue in his keen pursuit of rare relics. Not one to deny his passions, Golub’s choice was simple. He “had fallen in love with old scopes” and decided to pursue his penchant for collecting with full force.
Collecting microscopes in the 1960s, before the advent of eBay or Google, required more than just a few clicks on the Internet. Fortunately,
on their many vacations abroad, the Golubs had established the connections necessary to acquire rare specimens of historical and scientific merit. Alain Brieux, a Parisian dealer of scientific antiquities, was one such connection who became instrumental in the expansion of the Golubs’ personal microscope collection. The Golubs also made purchases for their personal collection from other private dealers, as well as from Sotheby’s and other auction houses both in the United States and Europe.
By the late 1960s the Golubs had amassed a substantial number of microscopes. Luckily, the Golub family had a sizable home near the University of California, Los Angeles and the time was ripe to create a dedicated space for their prized microscopes. They hired an architect to redesign two spare rooms, one
of which Golub had been using as a dark-room to develop his own photographs. With five children, Golub recognized that he “couldn’t do both—develop pictures and have a room for an extensive microscope collection.” In the end, the dark-room was sacrificed for what could best be described as a “museum den”. The room’s museum-like features included walls lined with glass shelves containing the growing collection of instruments, illuminated on one side by natural light from an overhead skylight. The room’s den-like features included comfortable chairs, an entertainment system, and a variety of books on optics and microscopy stacked on the shelves of an antique bookshelf. With a proper home for his microscopes, Golub continued collecting microscopes even after his retirement from the Laboratory in 1980. In 1995, through discussions with then-Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman, Golub arranged to donate part of the collection to UC Berkeley, to be housed in a special case in the Valley Life Sciences Building. It is here that the collection remains and continues to grow. Since its establishment, Golub has added microscopes to the collection and plans to make other donations in the near future.
The collection’s curator
Since their arrival on the Berkeley campus, the remarkable Golub microscopes have seen several curators — but none quite as attentive and talented as their current caretaker, Steve Ruzin. Ruzin is fueled by both a gift for gadgets and machinery and a long-standing fascination with microscopes. A photo of twelve-year-old Steve with his first microscope eerily predicts his future as a scientist and innovator in the world of microscopy.
Ruzin’s affection for microscopes has found a perfect fit here on the UC Berkeley campus. He not only serves as curator of the Golub Collection, he is also director of the College of Natural Resources Biological Imaging Facility, which functions as an instructional and research laboratory for all aspects of modern biological light mi- croscopy and computer image processing and analysis. In both arenas, Ruzin has been characteristically attentive and detail-oriented. In curator mode, Ruzin takes apart, cleans, reassembles, and photographs each microscope. He is continually astonished by the microscopes and loves “being able to hold and study instruments that were used by some long-deceased scientist.” As he selects one microscope each month to be showcased as the Microscope of the Month (MOM) on the collection’s website (microscopy.berkeley.edu), Ruzin sometimes imagines “what the original owner must have thought and felt when they used the instrument to look at specimens they knew nothing about.”
As if their presence alone were not remarkable enough, these noteworthy relics of our scientific past have found a place in the classroom due to the ingenuity of Steve Ruzin and bioengineering professor Daniel Fletcher. “Bringing the scopes into the Principle of Optics and Microscopy course provides students with a rare and wonderful opportunity to apply textbook and classroom lessons to a real analysis of historically relevant microscopes.” Fletcher goes on to describe the main project for the course. “The students work together in groups to carefully analyze the functionality of their selection from the Golub Collection.” Like photo albums made by proud parents, the students’ final projects include pictures of their microscopes, descriptions of their magnification power, as well as photographs of images produced by their microscopes.
The students’ ray diagrams, focal length estimations, and magnification calculations are a beautiful display of education at its best. Thanks to Golub, Ruzin, and Fletcher, the collection’s microscopes continue to play a role in twenty-first century science. And while researchers from eras past may never have imagined the work that would be done in subsequent centuries, they would likely be pleased that their microscopes are not just gathering dust; instead, these instruments participate in a living scientific legacy, touching and shaping the minds of future innovators.