Gelbart, William M.


Gelbart William


B.S., Harvard University (1967); Ph.D., University of Chicago (1970); NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Paris-Orsay (1971); Miller Institute Fellow, University of California, Berkeley (1971-1972); Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (1974); Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1976); Glenn T. Seaborg Award (1981); Hanson-Dow Distinguished Teaching Award (1986); American Physical Society Fellow (1987); Herbert Newby McCoy Award (1988); Brotherton Professor, University of Leeds (1988); Royal Society of Chemistry/Lennard-Jones Medal (1991); University Distinguished Teaching Award (1996); J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship (1998-1999); Rothschild Professor, Institut Curie, Paris (1999); American Chemical Society “Liquids” (Hildebrand) Prize (2001); Laughlin Professor, Cornell University (2006); Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2009); Festschrift issue of J. Phys. Chem. (2016); Glenn T. Seaborg Medal (2017).

Research Interests

After 25 years of theoretical work in statistical mechanics, focusing on structure and phase transitions involving increasingly complex fluids – e.g., liquid crystals, self-assembling amphiphilic molecules, polymer solutions, and colloidal suspensions – I became seduced by viruses around 20 years ago and have been working ever since on trying to understand how they “work”. Collaborating with Avi Ben-Shaul on theory predicting high pressures in DNA viruses and various aspects of the self-assembly of RNA viruses, I started a lab with my colleague Chuck Knobler to carry out experiments on a broad range of physical aspects of viruses. We performed the first measurement of the pressure (~50 atm) in a DNA virus, and started taking simple RNA viruses apart and trying to put them back together again.  We also made the first structure determinations of RNA viral genomes in their native state in solution, using synchrotron small-angle X-ray scattering, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, and cryo-electron microscopy.  Over the past 10 years we have included plant, insect, and mammalian viruses in our menagerie of RNA genome viruses, and have moved from exclusively in vitro work (purified viral components in test tubes) to studying how these viruses work in host cells. We have also begun to collaborate with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and with medical research teams, on using our in vitro self-assembled virus-like particles containing therapeutic mRNA for gene and vaccine delivery purposes.

   Read about my virus research

Honors & Awards

  • Cornell University Laughlin Lecturer
  • UCLA H. N. McCoy Award
  • Case Western Reserve University Bikerman Lecturer
  • American Chemical Society “Liquids” (Hildebrand) Prize
  • Institut Curie Rothschild Lecturer
  • J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship
  • UCLA Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award
  • British Royal Society Lennard-Jones Medal
  • UCLA H. N. McCoy Award
  • University of Leeds Brotherton Lecturer
  • American Physical Society Fellow
  • UCLA Hanson-Dow Distinguished Teaching Award
  • UCLA Glenn T. Seaborg Award
  • Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award
  • Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship
  • Elected to Michigan Society of Fellows
  • Miller Institute Fellowship at Berkeley
  • N.S.F. – N.A.T.O. Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • N.S.F. Traineeship
  • Harvard College Scholarship
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Representative Publications