Skip to main content

Gilbert V. Levin papers

Identifier: MS-0620

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Gilbert V. Levin papers, 1950-2009, represent the professional scientific career of Gilbert V. Levin, including his corporate desk files, correspondence and lectures, as well as drafts of scientific papers, laboratory notes and data for decades of research and development, and a career of proposals and contracts with NASA’s Mars mission programs. Levin’s papers indicate his involvement in the scientific community, from published articles, participation in conferences and the pursuit of patents, to correspondence with colleagues and students about his work. One significant series reveals the development of instrumentation launched on the Viking Mission to Mars in the summer of 1976.

Some acronyms it may be helpful to know in this collection include:

ALIF: “Analysis: Life or Inorganic Forms?” This is the title of a 1995 proposal and paper submitted to NASA by Gilbert V. Levin to investigate the reactive agent detected during the Viking mission in 1976.

AMML: Automated Microbial Metabolism Laboratory, a NASA-sponsored instrument that was designed to test soil samples for indications of life.

LR: Labeled Release experiment, which tested for microbial life on Mars using soil samples.

MRM: Microbial Radio Metabolism instrument, for the rapid detection of pathogenic microorganisms, designed to combat bacterial infection.

MOx: The Mars Oxidant Experiment was an instrument designed to characterize the reactive nature of the Martian soil and atmosphere.

SPIE: Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers, now called SPIE, a professional society for optics and photonics technology. Gilbert V. Levin spoke at SPIE conferences and published papers about microbial life on Mars and the Labeled Release experiment.

TEGA: Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, used to analyze Martian ice and soil samples.

VM1: A solution of formate, glycine, D-alanine, L-alanine, D-lactate, L-lactate, and glycolate, each uniformly labeled with radioactive Carbon-14. This solution was carried by the Viking probes to Mars, in order to test soil for microbial activity, which would be an indication of living organisms on Mars.

The Sheridan Libraries’ Special Collections department acquired the Gilbert Levin papers in 2006. The collection comprises approximately 60 cubic feet and principally focuses on Levin’s work developing experiments for the Viking probe, experimental work in sewage treatment, the pursuit of several patents, and the work of Spherix Corporation. Levin's papers also include several works and pieces of research conducted by his colleagues in collaborative projects, such as Dr. Patricia Ann Straat of the Viking Mission.


  • Creation: 1950-2009


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use. Some files contain personally identifiable information, and should be reviewed by Special Collections before access is provided.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

A native of Baltimore, Gilbert V. Levin obtained his B.E. in Civil Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1947 and his M.S. in Sanitary Engineering in 1948. While working as a public health engineer in his early career, Levin returned to JHU as a full time student and received his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering in 1963. In 1967, Levin founded Biospherics Research Inc. (later Spherix Inc.), where he served as CEO and President until 2003, and as Chairman of the Board until 2007. He retired from Spherix in 2008. NASA invited Levin to serve on its Planetary Quarantine Advisory Panel. He then became Principal Investigator for a study of NASA’s still pending Mars Sample Return Mission. Based on his sensitive radioisotope microbial detection method, Dr. Levin's proposal to NASA was selected for the Viking Mission to Mars. He was designated Experimenter of the Viking Labeled Release Life Detection Experiment which landed on Mars in 1976. The experiment got positive responses at both Viking landing sites. However, a consensus did not accept his results as proof of life.

After years of study, in 1997 Dr. Levin concluded that the experiment had, indeed, detected life on Mars, and published his conclusion. Pursuing the life issue, Dr. Levin was a member of the Scientific Instrument Team for NASA’s experiment on the ill-fated Russian ’96 Mars Mission. He has since developed, proposed and published on a Chiral LR life detection experiment as a way to support his original Mars LR results.


72.5 Cubic Feet (58 record center cartons)

Language of Materials



A native of Baltimore, Gilbert V. Levin obtained his B.E. in Civil Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1947 and his M.S. in Sanitary Engineering in 1948, and received his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering in 1963. He is the founder of Spherix Inc., and the principal investigator of the Mars Viking Mission Labeled Release Experiment. This collection of his papers represents Levin’s professional scientific career, including correspondence with colleagues, the pursuit of over 50 patents, and research on sewage treatment, the development of low-calorie sweeteners, and Mars mission topics.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Gilbert V. Levin, August 2006.


In May 2017, portions of this collection owned by Pat Straat were deaccessioned and returned to Pat Straat as her request. More information about this deaccession is available by request.

Related Materials

Scientific instruments created by Gilbert V. Levin can be found in the records of the Curator of Cultural Properties, accession number JH2012.10.

Processing Information

Processed by Emily Hampton, May-July 2015, with additional processing by Annie Tang in 2016-2017.

Gilbert V. Levin papers
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA