Melvin Spiegel

It is with sadness that we share the passing of MBL Society Emeritus Member and former Trustee Melvin Spiegel who passed away in February, 2019. The MBL flag will be lowered to half-mast in his memory.

Dr. Spiegel was a Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth College and a longtime MBL Whitman Scientist. He served the MBL as a Trustee from 1975 to 1982 and was an alumnus of the 1949 X-Invertebrate Zoology course. In 1992, Dr. Spiegel and his wife, Evelyn, established The Evelyn and Melvin Spiegel Summer Research Fellowship, which supports a MBL summer investigator in the field of Developmental Biology.

The remembrance that follows was by written by Dr. Spiegel’s longtime colleague Roger Sloboda, a Dartmouth professor and MBL Whitman Scientist, and Jane Carroll in the Dean of Faculty office at Dartmouth.


I write to inform you of the death of Mel Spiegel, Professor of Biological Sciences, Emeritus and a seminal figure in the professionalization of the Biology department in the 1960s and 1970s. Mel grew up in Brooklyn as an ardent Dodger fan, but he stopped supporting them when they left his city for Los Angeles.

During World War II, at the age of eighteen, Mel enlisted as a combat infantryman in the US Army. He fought in the European theater and was wounded three times, the last time so severely that he spent a year recuperating in a VA hospital. Much later, when Dartmouth President Jim Wright was visiting injured troops at Walter Reed Hospital and passing out Dartmouth caps, Jim was told of Mel’s service and his long recovery at the VA. Upon his return to campus, President Wright sent Mel one of those caps to acknowledge Mel’s service.

Upon release from the VA, Mel attended the University of Illinois, earning his B.S. Afterwards, he continued his studies at the University of Rochester, where he received his Ph.D. in 1952 under the direction of Professor Donald Charles. Mel remained at Rochester for an additional year as a Research Associate, then traveled to California for a two-year USPHS postdoctoral position at Cal Tech.

In 1955, Mel began his teaching career at Colby College. Around this time, he met his wife, Evelyn, when both were researching at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In 1959, John Copenhaver ’46, a professor in Dartmouth’s Biology department, reached out to Mel and persuaded him to come to Hanover. Both Mel and Evelyn were promising embryologists with Evelyn focusing on cell cytology. John Copenhaver wished to hire both spouses, but Dartmouth then had a nepotism rule that prevented a dual hire. This situation is the first documented case at Dartmouth of the two-body problem. In the end, Mel was offered the tenure-track position and Evelyn was appointed a research associate and later was made a research professor.

Mel’s research focused on the study of sea urchin development, an area in which he wrote numerous articles. From that research came his proposal that specific antibodies could be used as tools to study development. That idea has been developed by subsequent scientists over the years and can be seen today in studies on the subcellular localization of proteins and even current antibody-based therapies being explored for cancer treatment. Much of Mel’s research was conducted during his summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. He also spent one sabbatical at Cal Tech and another at both the University of California, San Diego and the National Institute for Medical research in Mill Hill, UK. Other sabbaticals and many free terms found Mel at the Biozentrum in Basel.

For those who knew him, Mel was certainly a character (in the very best sense of the word), a one of a kind individual; he was also very politically astute, with respect to both academic and national politics. He loved the MBL.

Mel is survived by his wife, Evelyn. As was his wish, no memorial service is planned.