This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Philip Handler" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (February 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Philip Handler
18th President of the National Academy of Sciences
In office
Preceded byFrederick Seitz
Succeeded byFrank Press
Personal details
Born(1917-08-13)August 13, 1917
New York City
DiedDecember 29, 1981(1981-12-29) (aged 64)
Boston, MA
Alma materCity College of New York (B.S) (1936) University of Illinois (Ph.D) (1939)
Known forThe textbook Principles of Biochemistry, and the popular book Biology & The Future of Man
AwardsNational Academy of Sciences, National Medal of Science (1981)
Scientific career
InstitutionsDuke University
ThesisThe metabolism of N-substituted amino acids (1939)
Doctoral advisorH. E. Carter
Doctoral studentsIrwin Fridovich

Philip Handler (August 13, 1917 – December 29, 1981) was an American nutritionist, and biochemist. He was President of the United States National Academy of Sciences for two terms from 1969 to 1981. He was also a recipient of the National Medal of Science.


Handler grew up in a Jewish family in New York City. He received his B.S. degree from the City College of New York in 1936 and his Ph.D. from University of Illinois in 1939.[1] He taught at Duke University where he was named the youngest chairman of the Department of Biochemistry, at 35. Handler remained at Duke until 1969, when he accepted the position of president of the National Academy of Sciences.

As a biochemist, he published more than 200 papers on nutrition and metabolic activity. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1964. He received the National Medal of Science in 1981 for "his outstanding contribution to biochemical research, resulting in significant contributions to mankind, including research which led to a clearer understanding of pellagra" (Bioscience Article).

His research led to the first understanding of nicotinic acid deficiency and the discovery of the tryptophan-nicotinic acid relationship. Handler also provided an understanding of the oxidation of sarcosine to glycine and formaldehyde, which led to the importance of single-carbon atoms in metabolism. His final work showed that methionine is the only methyl donor in mammalian metabolism and that there is no pool of methyl groups.

As President of the National Academy of Sciences, Handler was instrumental in opening a dialog on American-Soviet cooperation in outer space with his counterpart at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1970. The discussions would ultimately lead to a joint spaceflight in 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.[2] Handler was also responsible for perhaps one of the most notable statues relating to science in the United States: that of Albert Einstein at the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.

Handler was also involved in the creation of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), the predecessor to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Within HEW, Handler had a significant impact on the creation of a multitude of centers within the National Institutes of Health. He spurred in part by a growing interest in the biosciences, his position on various governmental committees, and the book Biology & The Future of Man, which read like a blueprint for a generation of work in the life sciences.

Rather abruptly, Handler died in Boston on December 29, 1981, from pneumonia, shortly after leaving office at the Academy. Instead of returning to Duke University as planned, he remained in the hospital following his admission for a thorough checkup in August 1981. He chose to have his ashes placed alongside his colleagues' at Duke University Medical Center, where he began his academic research career.[citation needed]

Positions held


Public Service

Governmental Positions



Selected quotes

Many of the quotes were found in the Memorial Program honoring his life and held at the National Academy of Sciences.[3]

"I am committed to defense of the human rights of all persons, but those of scientists in particular. Not so much because humanity may be denied the fruits of their science, but because they are precious as human beings; because abrogation of their rights is injurious to all mankind; because, as thoughtful intellectuals, scientists not infrequently become involved in the defense of the human rights of others..." – "Science in a Free Society" The Phi Beta Kappa Bicentennial Lecture. College of William and Mary. December 6, 1976

"Creative scientific research is one of the very purposes of our society akin to imaginative scholarship in the humanities and innovation in the arts. Surely, no other course available to this civilization is as hopeful as the continuing subtle interplay of science and developing technology." From "The University in a World in Transition." The Convocation Address at the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the University of Virginia. October 21, 1969.

"Do not fear change – help to guide it. Every technology since fire and the wheel confronted humanity simultaneously with the prospect of great benefit – and of considerable hazard, with potential for good and for evil." From "Science in a Free Society" A Commencement Ceremony Address. Southwestern at Memphis. May 30, 1977.


  1. ^ Handler, Philip (1939). The metabolism of N-substituted amino acids (Ph.D.). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. OCLC 27415698 – via ProQuest.
  2. ^ Ezell, Edward Clinton; Ezell, Linda Neuman (1978). "The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project". NASA History Series. NASA (NASA Special Publication-4209). Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  3. ^ Memorial Service Program handed out at the National Academy of Sciences. Washington, D.C. February 8, 1982
Professional and academic associations Preceded byFrederick Seitz President of the National Academy of Sciences 1969 – 1981 Succeeded byFrank Press