The Salk Institute

Where Cures Begin




The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk’s mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer’s, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin.

60 Years of Excellence

Founded in 1960, the Salk Institute is home to a highly collaborative cadre of scientists who delve into a broad range of research areas, from aging and immunology to diabetes, cancer and plant biology. Salk scientists are among the world’s leaders in neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics and plant biology.

They are supported by 10 on-campus research centers working to accelerate discoveries in critical fields of research, as well as by shared campus hubs called “cores,” which provide cutting-edge equipment and trained experts to Salk researchers to assist in their efforts.

The Institute has a history of innovation and excellence in the San Diego area and the greater scientific community for the last 60 years. Beginning with Jonas Salk, inventor of the first safe and effective polio vaccine, the Institute has a rich legacy of impactful scientific breakthroughs that have transformed how humanity understands the world in which we live.

Salk has been home to six Nobel laureates, is ranked among the top research institutes in the world, and has faculty who routinely publish the most-cited research papers in neuroscience, plant biology and genetics.

Vision for the Future

Since the Salk Institute’s founding, its mission has been to improve lives through scientific discovery. Today, Salk scientists working in collaborative teams are boldly seeking answers to three of humanity’s most critical issues: climate change, cancer and aging optimally—so we don’t just live longer, we also live healthier in advanced age.


Salk’s Harnessing Plants Initiative, recently awarded more than $35 million from The Audacious Project, can help buy our planet time to develop solutions to climate change.

This biologically-based solution aims to develop coastal and crop plants that are efficient at capturing and storing larger amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, while continuing to feed a burgeoning human population. Salk Ideal Plants™ will reduce atmospheric CO2, reverse lost soil carbon and vitality, and strengthen plant survival to enhance crop yields.


Salk’s National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center aims to harness new approaches to fight five deadly cancers: pancreatic, ovarian, lung, brain (glioblastoma) and triple-negative breast cancer.

The collaborative Salk team uses cutting-edge strategies to strike tumors’ vulnerabilities simultaneously—such as cutting tumors’ metabolic supply lines; disrupting inflammatory barriers; reprogramming malignant cells; mobilizing the immune system; and developing computational methods to re-engineer therapeutics—all while working with clinical partners to accelerate discoveries from the bench to the bedside.


Salk scientists are paving the way for a new view of age-related diseases and pointing to therapies to extend our healthy life span. They are forging new partnerships across fields—computer science, genetics, epigenetics, neuroscience, immunology and other areas of molecular biology—in order to spearhead ambitious studies to reveal how we can live longer and healthier.

These scientists are diving into molecular, genetic, cellular and systems-wide processes in the body; peering into the fundamental workings of cells; and developing novel techniques to replace and repair failing organs and tissues.

Meeting the Opportunities of the 21st Century

In addition to these three initiatives, the Salk Institute is focused on research driven by faculty with expertise in disciplines that will change the landscape of science, including next-generation technologies, computational biology and bio-engineering.


Timeless Words Inspire an Iconic Architectural Wonder
Embossed in the white travertine walkway leading to the Salk Institute’s courtyard is a quote in silver, sans serif lettering from Jonas Salk: Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.

No words better exemplify the vision the Institute’s founder had for his now world-renowned biological research facility. In 1960, Salk selected famed architect Louis Kahn to bring his vision to life, and construction of the Salk Institute, situated on 27 acres of coastal bluffs, began in 1962.

Salk charged Kahn with creating large, open and unobstructed laboratory spaces able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of science, while simultaneously designing a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso. Looking up from Salk’s inspiring quote, one’s gaze is drawn to the River of Life bisecting the Institute’s travertine courtyard and running in a straight line to a pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The slow-moving stream represents the constant trickle of scientific discoveries spilling into the greater body of knowledge. Two mirror-imaged, six-story buildings, with alternating laboratory and utility space, flank the open courtyard.

Constructed from poured concrete, glass and teak, the buildings also house 36 faculty studies with views of the ocean and courtyard. Between the laboratory buildings is a single expanse of open space, a unifying area for social interaction.

While Kahn had anticipated planting trees and other greenery in the courtyard, a consultation with Mexican architect Luis Barragán led him in the opposite direction. Barragán stated: “I would not put a tree or blade of grass in this space … If you make this a plaza, you will gain a façade—a façade to the sky.

” Salk’s campus acts in harmony with nature, including a small orange tree orchard and a eucalyptus grove between the east and west buildings. Now, 60 years after their construction, the Institute’s buildings continue to be heralded around the globe as architectural and functional icons.  Additionally, the Salk Institute has long been recognized for its dedication to conservation.

In 1992, Salk received a 25-Year Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and was featured in the AIA exhibit “Structures of Our Time: 31 Buildings That Changed Modern Life.” The California Historical Resources Commission determined the entire Salk campus to be eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

In the summer of 2017, the Salk Institute; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.; and the Getty Conservation Institute through CMAI unveiled the successful results of a restoration project to preserve the signature teak window systems of the nearly 60-year-old modernist structure.

The $9.8 million project extended the life of the wood frames by an estimated 50 to 70 years. In October 2017, the project was recognized with an Excellence in Craftsmanship and Preservation Technology award from the California Preservation Foundation.

Considered a cathedral to the blend of art and science, the Salk Institute is a must-see destination for 40,000 visitors each year, many of them international and a significant number of them architects.

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