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Profiles in Science
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About Profiles in Science

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is making the archival collections of leaders in biomedical research and public health available on its Profiles in Science® web site. The site, launched in September 1998, promotes the use of the Internet for research and teaching in the history of biomedical science. Many of the collections have been donated to NLM and contain published and unpublished items, including books, journal volumes, pamphlets, diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, audiotapes, video clips, and other materials.

Profiles in Science is a research product of the digital library research program of NLM's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications conducted in collaboration with the digital manuscripts program of the History of Medicine Division at NLM.

Profiles in Science is located at

See also Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Profiles in Science.


The collections are divided into three categories: Biomedical Research, Health & Medicine, and Fostering Science & Health. The Biomedical Research collections include materials related to the study of biological processes at the most basic molecular level. The Health & Medicine collections focus on the application of scientific discoveries to improve medical treatments and public health. The Fostering Science & Health collections provide insight into the role politicians, philanthropists, the media and others play in biomedical research and public health.

Each digital collection on the Profiles site consists of two major parts. The first part is an exhibit composed of introductory narratives on the scientist's life and work and a selection of noteworthy documents (text, audiotapes, video clips and photographs). The exhibit is particularly designed for students and those with little background in science. The second part consists of additional documents from the scientist's papers, available through a search engine and in alphabetical and chronological "views." In addition, for the Joshua Lederberg collection, the donor has provided commentary in the form of annotations to individual documents.

The collections are particularly strong in the areas of cellular biology, genetics, and biochemistry, but also reflect issues in such areas as health and medical research policy, the application of computers in medicine, science education, and the search for extraterrestrial life.

Processing the Collections

The digital manuscripts program staff of the History of Medicine Division process the papers they receive and then produce digital versions, applying formal criteria to choose documents for inclusion in Profiles in Science. Each item is described by specific descriptors, or metadata, by which it can be identified and retrieved. Future plans include incorporating a hierarchical finding aid structure into the digital site, mirroring the physical arrangement of the papers.

System Design

Underlying the Profiles web site is a system designed to handle the entire life cycle of a digital conversion project. The primary design principles are modularity, adherence to standards, and extensibility. The approach has involved using metadata to drive the entire system. Metadata is the major component of the data input stage, and it is used for generating the multiple views of the data that are available through the web site. Importantly, the metadata is also the basis for search and retrieval.

For those items that are selected for digital conversion, archival TIFF files are created. These then serve as the digital master copies from which a variety of web-accessible derivatives can be created. Adobe PDF files are derived from the master TIFF files for black and white documents, and two sizes of JPEG images are derived from the greyscale and color TIFF files. Streaming audio and video (QuickTime and RealMedia) files are produced from the video clips, and audiotapes. Since future data and delivery formats are unknown, the Profiles in Science system architecture has been designed such that it can easily accommodate changes, while still ensuring the persistence of the underlying data.

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