In 2015, several boxes and many digital files greeted Anne-Flore Laloë on her first day at EMBL as the newly instated Archivist. Three years on, the EMBL Archive – now located in EMBL Heidelberg’s Building 14 – houses even more boxes, stacked neatly in a temperature-controlled room. Inside each one, spotless folders are tied together with a ribbon. Each folder keeps photographs, documents or historical treasures safe and accessible. Among their contents are an original drawing from a graphic novel featuring one of EMBL’s founders, Leo Szilard, and placards collected at Heidelberg’s March for Science in 2017. There’s also a box of dissecting instruments that belonged to former Director General Fotis Kafatos. Decorated in his handwriting, the fierce warning cautions others not to borrow the forceps “under any conditions”.
These treasures could only have been preserved thanks to the work of the EMBL Alumni Association board, who first suggested setting up an EMBL Archive in 2010. Between the initial proposal and Laloë’s appointment, members of the EMBL Alumni Relations team have worked tirelessly with the alumni community to bring together and save artefacts that are now among the archival holdings. Since then, many dedicated and enthusiastic people have continued to support the Archive, and more will shape it as it grows.
At the inauguration of the EMBL Archive on 19 July, staff and alumni had the opportunity to visit the Archive for the first time, to reminisce about its beginnings, and to celebrate its progress and contributors. On stage, EMBL Director General Iain Mattaj, EMBL alumnus and former Chair of the EMBL Alumni Association Giulio Superti-Furga, and Laloë recounted their personal stories about the Archive’s beginnings. Throughout the afternoon the same message rang clear: the EMBL Archive is, and will continue to be, a community effort.
Save your notes, drafts and printouts
In his speech, Mattaj was keen to stress that contributions are gladly welcomed from both the EMBL community and beyond. He noted that a large part of the continuing effort involves working closely with EMBL’s current staff to capture EMBL’s story as its science unfolds. The Archive is also part of a larger network, alongside other leading archives such as the Wellcome Collection – which has provided valuable expertise throughout the process of setting up the Archive at EMBL. Together, these archives bring together important records of life science research and make them accessible. “The EMBL Archive will become an important source of information about scientific events which are helping to shape our science and society,” Mattaj commented.
Superti-Furga, who spearheaded the effort to found the EMBL Archive, reminisced about his original inspiration – a letter in Nature from Sydney Brenner and Richard Roberts that called upon scientists to “save your notes, drafts and printouts”. As a strong advocate for scientific archives, Superti-Furga encouraged today’s scientists to think about their ongoing work and how to preserve it with the help of archivists.
Today, the Archive’s catalogue can be viewed online and some holdings are also available digitally. The EMBL Archive itself is open for anyone to visit and study the items in person, by arrangement with Laloë. “I’m keen for anyone, from within or outside EMBL, to visit the Archive and I hope it will inspire people to donate their own artefacts,” says Laloe. “I’m interested in receiving items that embody the scientific and institutional history of EMBL and European molecular biology more widely. Every item that comes to the EMBL Archive is part of a picture which illuminates EMBL’s diverse scientific and personal stories. The Archive then makes these items and stories open for the community, today and in the future.”
If you’d like to visit the EMBL Archive or if you have an item that could be added to its holdings, please contact Anne-Flore Laloë at email@example.com or call +49 6221 387 8719.
To study the effect of commonly used drugs on bacterial envelopes, EMBL scientists applied a biochemical assay using a colour reaction. The deeper the red, the stronger the disruptive effect of the drug.