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Richard Y. Morita Papers, 1949-2005

By Clare Sobotka and Elizabeth Nielsen

Collection Overview

Title: Richard Y. Morita Papers, 1949-2005

ID: MSS Morita

Primary Creator: Morita, R. Y. (Richard Y.)

Extent: 1.6 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The Morita Papers are arranged in 5 series: 1. Biographical Information, 1953-2000; 2. Correspondence, 1949-2005; 3. Grant Projects, 1964-1988; 4. Publication Contracts and Financial Records, 1962-1997; and 5. Photographs, 1949-1972.

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Morita Papers document the academic and research career of Richard Yukio Morita, a marine microbiologist who conducted extensive research on the effects of pressure, low temperature, and available energy on the physiology of marine bacteria.  Richard Y. Morita was a faculty member in microbiology and oceanography at Oregon State University from 1962 through 1988 and pursued an active research program as a Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Oceanography from 1989 through the 2000s.

Scope and Content Notes

The Richard Y. Morita Papers document the academic career and professional activities of Richard Yukio Morita, primarily his research in marine microbiology and marine ecology.  The Papers consist primarily of correspondence and also include biographical information, grant records, publication contracts, and photographs.  The correspondence includes extensive correspondence between Morita and his mentor and graduate advisor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Claude E. ZoBell, as well as other collaborators and scientific colleagues.  Correspondence and related materials document Morita’s numerous publications of journal articles, book chapters, and monographs.  Morita participated in some of the first expeditions to study the deep sea in the 1950s and 1960s.  These expeditions and the resulting scientific outcomes are extensively documented in this collection.

Materials documenting Morita’s research on the interaction of pressure and temperature on marine bacteria, microorganisms in extreme environments, and bacteria in oligotrophic (nutrient poor) environments form the bulk of this collection.

The biographical materials include an in-depth autobiographical essay in which Morita describes his childhood in southern California; his incarceration as a Japanese American during World War II and subsequent military service; and his education and career.  Morita’s numerous awards and recognitions are documented in the collection as well as his roles in the scientific community as a reviewer, consultant, journal editor, and organizer of symposia.

Biographical / Historical Notes

Richard Y. Morita was a faculty member in microbiology and oceanography at Oregon State University from 1962 through 1988 and pursued an active research program as a Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Oceanography from 1989 through the early 2000s.

Richard Yukio Morita was born on March 27, 1923 in Pasadena, California. He graduated from Pasadena High School in 1941. In 1942 the Morita family was forced to enter an concentration camp; they were first sent to Tulare Assembly Center in southern California, and then to the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona. Richard Morita left the camp later in 1942 to attend the University of Nebraska, but was drafted into and served in the U. S. Army 442nd Regiment Combat Team in 1944-1946. Afterwards, he earned a B.S. in Bacteriology-Chemistry from the University of Nebraska in 1947, an M.S. in Bacteriology from the University of Southern California in 1949, and a Ph. D. in Microbiology-Oceanography from the University of California, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1954, where he was the first Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) to graduate. He held several assistant professorships before coming to OSU, where he was an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Oceanography in 1962-1964. In 1964 he became a full Professor at OSU, a post he held until 1988. OSU granted him Professor Emeritus status in 1989. He also served as program director for biochemistry at the National Science Foundation in 1968-1969. Morita married Toshiko Nishihara on March 14, 1953 and they had three children: Sally Jean, Ellen Jane, and Peter Wayne. He was the likely the first Nisei in biological oceanography, and one of the first Nisei with academic rank in microbiology.

During his career, Morita was part of several large research expeditions. He was a microbiologist for three of them: the Mid-Pacific Expedition of 1950 (where he was the first microbiologist to study the deep sea), the 1952 Royal Danish Navy Galathea Deep Sea Expedition, and the Trans-Pacific Expedition of 1953. In 1962 he was an invited investigator for Expedition Dodo. Morita studied microbiology in extreme earth environments, including the polar regions and the deep sea. Some of his important contributions to the field include: the discovery of barophiles (pressure loving bacteria) with his mentor Dr. Claude ZoBell; demonstrating that enzyme reactions can occur over 100°C; the discovery of psychrophiles (cold-loving bacteria); the concept of starvation-survival in bacteria; and with Francisco Torrella, the discovery that the marine environment has many phage particles. The genus Moritella was named after him to honor his work in marine microbiology. Several significant awards he received include the Fisher Scientific Company Award from the American Society of Microbiology in 1988; a Queen Elizabeth II Senior Fellowship from the Australian Government, 1973-1974; a King Fredericus IX Medal and Ribbon for participating in the Galathea Expedition; a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship 1978, and an honorary membership in the American Society of Microbiology, 1990

Author: Clare Sobotka

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 75 photographs; 3 boxes

Statement on Access: Collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: The bulk of the materials were donated by Richard Morita in 2002; small additions to the collection were received in 2004 and 2009.

Related Materials:

A 2010 oral history interview of Morita is part of the Voices of Oregon State University Oral History Collection (OH 009) and additional materials pertaining to Morita are part of the Oregon Multicultural Communities Research Collection (MSS OMCRC).  The Special Collections and Archives Research Center’s holding include several collections documenting microbiology research and teaching at Oregon State including the Microbiology Department Records (RG 191) and the papers of other microbiology faculty John L. Fryer and Paul R. Elliker.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography conducted an extensive oral history interview of Dr. Morita in 2006.  A transcript of the interview is available online.

Preferred Citation: Richard Y. Morita Papers (MSS Morita), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.


Morita, R. Y. (Richard Y.)
Colwell, Rita R. (1934-)
ZoBell, Claude E. (1904-1989)

People, Places, and Topics

Colwell, Rita R., 1934-
History of Science
Marine ecology--Research.
Marine microbial ecology
Morita, R. Y. (Richard Y.)
Oregon Multicultural Archives
Oregon State University. Department of Microbiology
Psychrophilic bacteria
Scientific expeditions.
University History
ZoBell, Claude E., 1904-1989.

Forms of Material

Photographic prints.

Box and Folder Listing

Series 1: Biographical Information, 1953-2000
Series 1 consists of a complete Curriculum Vitae for Dr. Morita that lists all of the professional positions he held, his publications, honors received, awarded grants, and other aspects of his career; an autobiographical essay written in 1995 and updated in 2000; and a U.S. Government form “Statement of Personal History" completed in 1953. The autobiographical essay is of special note as Morita describes his experiences as a child and youth in southern California; his incarceration and later military service during World War II; and his education and career.
Box-Folder 1.01
Series 2: Correspondence, 1949-2005
Series 2 comprises the bulk of this collection and consists of correspondence sent and received by Morita and associated documents and materials.  The correspondence is arranged by project, publication, or correspondent and documents Morita’s research and publishing, scientific expeditions, and the long-term relationships he developed with his collaborators and colleagues.  The series includes substantial correspondence with Claude E. ZoBell, Morita’s mentor and graduate advisor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Rita Colwell at the University of Maryland; and Francisco Torrella.  The ZoBell and Colwell correspondence files also include extensive biographical information about those two scientists.  The general correspondence pertains to publications, patents, and Morita’s research and also includes award nominations and tributes to Morita made at his retirement.  Materials documenting his teaching and service at Oregon State University are also included in the general correspondence.  This series includes 15 photographs, primarily photomicrographs.
Box-Folder 1.02: Bacteria in Oligotrophic Environments - General, 1995-1996
Box-Folder 1.03: Bacteria in Oligotrophic Environments - Permission to Reprint, 1996
Box-Folder 1.04: Bacteria in Oligotrophic Environments Project, 1996-1997
Box-Folder 1.05: Biodiversity of Psychrofiles Project, 1999
Box-Folder 1.06: Brochures and Certificates, 1966 - circa 1995
Box-Folder 1.07: Rita Colwell, 1970-1981
Box-Folder 1.08: Rita Colwell, 1979-2001
Box-Folder 1.09: Dodo Research Expedition on the Vessel Argo, 1964-1965
Box-Folder 1.10: Ian Dundas, 1986-1997
Box-Folder 1.11: Encyclopedia of Life Sciences Project, 1997-2001
Box-Folder 1.12: Galathea Deep Sea Expedition, 1951-1985
Box-Folder 1.13: General Correspondence, 1957-2000
Box-Folder 1.14: General Correspondence, 1962-1991
Box-Folder 1.15: General Correspondence, 1967-2001
Box-Folder 1.16: General Correspondence, 1978-2001
Box-Folder 1.17: General Correspondence, 1968-2001
Box-Folder 1.18: General - Publications of Articles and Book Chapters, 1998-1999
Box-Folder 1.19: Newspaper Clippings, 1951-1981
Box-Folder 1.20: Office of Naval Research, 1984
Proposal review process controversy.
Box-Folder 1.21: Patent for Microbial Methane Production, 1981-1982
Box-Folder 1.22: Patent for Microbial Methane Production, 1981-1993
Box-Folder 1.23: Publications and Clippings, 1991-2005
Box-Folder 1.24: Task Force on the Forward Contamination of Europa: Space Studies Board, 1997-1998
Box-Folder 1.25: Task Force on the Forward Contamination of Europa: Space Studies Board, 1997-2000
Box-Folder 2.01: Task Force on the Forward Contamination of Europa: Space Studies Board, 1997-2000
Box-Folder 2.02: Francisco Torrella, 1988-2001
Includes 14 photographs of specimens (photomicrographs).
Box-Folder 2.03: Francisco Torrella, 1978-1991
Box-Folder 2.04: Trans-Pacific Research Expedition, 1953
Box-Folder 2.05: U.S. vs. Milstein, 2000
Expert witness testimony.
Box-Folder 2.06: Claude E. ZoBell, 1949-1958
Includes 1 photograph.
Box-Folder 2.07: Claude E. ZoBell, 1952-1964
Box-Folder 2.08: Claude E. ZoBell, 1965-1997
Box-Folder 3.01: Claude E. ZoBell, 1971-1993
Series 3: Grant Projects, 1964-1988
Series 3 consists primarily of correspondence between Morita and agencies that funded his research – primarily the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The series also includes award notifications and grant accounting information from the Oregon State University Research Accounting Office.  A few grant applications and revised budgets are also part of this series.
Box-Folder 3.2: Grant Projects, 1967-1988
Box-Folder 3.3: Grant Projects, 1964-1980
Series 4: Publication Contracts and Financial Records, 1962-1997
Series 4 consists of publication contracts and agreements, royalty payment statements, and related documentation and correspondence for book chapters and journal articles written by Morita.  The series also includes requests to reproduce illustrations published by Morita.
Box-Folder 3.4
Series 5: Photographs, 1949-1972
Series 5 consist of photographic prints assembled by Morita depicting himself, his scientific colleagues; and research activities at sea and in tropical settings, including Pago Pago.  The series includes 60 photographic prints.  All of the photographs (with the exception of 1 color print) are b/w.  Some of the images are formal portraits and professional photographs; others are informal snapshots.
Box-Folder 3.5: Research Activities, circa 1950s
Images depicting fieldwork in a tropical setting and a close-up of laboratory set-up on the Mid-Pacific Expedition in 1950 that includes S.C. Rittenberg and Morita; 3 prints.
Box-Folder 3.6: Morita and others, 1949 - circa 1970
Includes a 1949 portrait photo of Morita; snapshots and other photos of Morita working in the laboratory; photographs of Morita with groups of colleagues, including Claude E. ZoBell; a portrait photograph of Claude E. ZoBell; and photographs of a research vessel and research being conducted at sea.  22 prints
Box-Folder 3.7: Pago Pago, 1952
Snapshots of Morita and others at sea and in Pago Pago. 28 prints (1 color; 27 b/w).
Box-Folder 3.8: U.S. - Japan Conference at University of Maryland, 1972
Morita was the principal organizer and a participant in the 2nd U.S.-Japan Cooperative Conference on Marine Microbiology in College Park, Maryland.   Photographs depict participants at the conference including Morita and scientists from the United States and Japan.  7 prints.

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