AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIV , No. 2, Fall 2002

 

Records of Physics and Atmospheric Physics at the University of Albany, SUNY
by Geoffrey P. Williams, University Archivist

Yellowstone Field Research Expedition
Unidentified scientist performing a weather experiment, Yellowstone Field Research Expedition, 1964. Schaefer led ASRC sponsored winter expeditions to Yellowstone Park from 1961 through 1972. The geyser eruptions closely resembled cloud conditions, allowing inexpensive study of cloud composition. Photo by Vincent Schaefer, courtesy Vincent Schaefer Papers, SUNY Albany.
The University Archives is part of the M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives of the University Libraries, the University at Albany, SUNY. The mission of the University Archives is to collect and make available the official records of the University, its divisions, centers and faculty. The University at Albany, formerly known as the State University of New York at Albany, was transformed from a college for teachers into a University Center in 1962. Prior to that date very little original scientific research was conducted at the University. One exception to that rule was the physicist Charles Luther Andrews, a faculty member at the school from 1944-1977 (.75 cu. ft.), who was engaged in research projects with General Electric in Schenectady, primarily related to X-rays and optics. We hold a small collection of his papers, primarily offprints.

We also hold administrative records of the Department of Physics, 1915-1971 (2 cu. ft.), and the former Department of Astronomy and Space Sciences, 1967-76 (4 cu. ft.). Two collections address the issue of scientists' relation to larger societal questions, the Eugene R. Rabinowitch Papers, 1923-73 (6 cu. ft.), and the records of the Center for the Study of Science and Society, 1967-71 (2 cu. ft.), (headed by Victor Rabinowitch, Eugene's son). Eugene Rabinowitch was professor of biology and chemistry at the State University of New York at Albany from 1968-73, and a senior advisor to the Center for the Study of Science and Society. He is best known for his prominent role in the Concerned Scientists Movement of the 1940s and 1950s, and his long editorship of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

The great bulk of the University Archive's collections relate to atmospheric physics, and they are found, with one exception, in the records of our Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC), headquartered at the University, and in the private papers of the scientists and researchers who worked at the ASRC. Since the ASRC was for many years the preeminent research organization at our University, every effort has been made to collect a full set of ASRC's scientific records in the University Archives.

The bulk of the information about ASRC research programs is found in the personal papers of ASRC scientists and researchers including Vincent Schaefer, Bernard Vonnegut (shortly to be transfered to the University Archives), Raymond Falconer, Eugene McLaren, and Roger Cheng. ASRC scientists conducted groundbreaking research in cloud physics, atmospheric electricity, solar and alternative sources of energy, air pollution and meteorology. The scientists' papers also document their research at the General Electric Research Laboratory, Schenectady, NY (Schaefer, Vonnegut, and Falconer), the Munitalp Foundation (Schaefer and Falconer), and Arthur D. Little Consulting (Vonnegut). Since Vonnegut's papers (approximately 55 cu. ft.) are not inventoried, they will not be discussed here. We also hold the papers of Alfred H. Woodcock, an associate of ASRC scientist Duncan Blanchard. Woodcock's professional career was spent at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Hawaii, where he studied atmospheric sea salts, air/sea interactions, the physics and chemistry of warm rain, and volcanic "mountain breathing".

The early development of the ASRC can be traced through the ASRC Records, 1961-84 (5 cu. ft. mostly publications), but mainly through private papers of ASRC scientists and researchers, Eugene McLaren, 1959-1987 (3.5 cu. ft), Raymond Falconer, 1942-1999 (97 cu. ft.), and comprehensively, Vincent Schaefer, 1927-1993 (217 cu. ft). McLaren, a professor of Chemistry and University administrator during the 1960s, fostered the rapid development of ASRC. Falconer was a meteorologist and early research associate at the ASRC, and his papers document the establishment and research programs of the Whiteface Mountain Observatory which he directed, particularly meteorological and pollution studies. The bulk of the files related to the establishment and work of the ASRC, are, however, found in the papers of Schaefer. A founder of the ASRC, its first director of research and subsequently director, Schaefer retained copies of most important communications and studies conducted by the ASRC through the early 1980s.
Viewing Schaefer's dry ice cold chamber
(L-R) Irving Langmuir, Robert Per-Johansen (?), Katherine Blodgett, and Vincent Schaefer view a recreation of Schaefer's dry ice cold chamber cloud seeding experiment in the GE Research Laboratory, Schenectady, NY, 1946. Credit: Research Information Services, General Electric Research Laboratory, courtesy Vincent Schaefer Papers, SUNY Albany.

Beyond the work of the ASRC, Schaefer and Falconer's Papers contain a complete record of their scientific activities at GE. The Falconer Papers, just acquired, are mostly inaccessible until treated for mold. Falconer's papers document his work at the Mount Washington Observatory, 1942-1946, as head of GE Weather Bureau, 1947-57, including his work on Project Cirrus and long range weather forecasting, and his work at the ASRC's Whiteface Mountain Field Station.

The centerpiece of our atmospheric science holdings are the Schaefer Papers, 1920-1993, which include his research notes, scientific and professional correspondence, 16mm films, and unpublished autobiographies. Schaefer's early work at the GE Research Laboratories in the 1930s on surface chemistry was as a research assistant for Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir. During WW II, he worked with Langmuir on gas mask filtration of smoke, the formulation of smoke-generated artificial fog, aircraft icing, ice nuclei and cloud physics. In the summer of 1946, Schaefer developed a laboratory method of seeding super-cooled clouds with dry ice, and conducted a successful field test of cloud seeding that fall. These discoveries led Langmuir to obtain federal funds for Project Cirrus, 1947-53, which experimented with cloud seeding and weather modification. Schaefer left GE in 1954 to become Director of Research for the Munitalp Foundation, a position he held until 1958. During his tenure, Munitalp sponsored atmospheric scientists worldwide carrying out basic research in cloud physics and atmospheric particulates. Schaefer's research interest in these areas continued at ASRC, which he helped found in 1961.

Descriptions of many of these collections can be found online at http://library.albany.edu/speccoll/list.htm. For more information about the collections please contact Geoffrey P. Williams, University Archivist, University Libraries LE 356, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY 12222, phone 518-437-3936, e-mail g.williams@albany.edu.


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