AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXIX, No. 2, Fall 1997

 

Survey Requests Biographical Materials from Senior Geophysicists

In July a mailing was sent to some 250 leading geophysicists in the United States and abroad, asking them for biographical information. Historians often have a problem uncovering biographical information about past scientists. Even getting the basic data found in a curriculum vitae and a list of publications can require many hours of digging, and more personal information may be lost altogether after the passage of time. In past years the AIP Center for History of Physics has worked on the problem by surveying eminent scientists in various fields such as astrophysics and nuclear physics, and the resulting materials, kept in the archives of the Niels Bohr Library, have been used regularly by historians and other scholars. Attention has now turned to geophysics in a joint project of the American Geophysical Union and the AIP.

A list of some 250 people was compiled by the AGU's History of Geophysics Committee (chaired by Ed Cliver) with the cooperation of the AGU's disciplinary sections. People were included who were near or beyond retirement age and whose scientific work or other activities had made it particularly important to preserve some of their biographical information. With the aid of a small grant from AGU as well as AIP funding, the Center for History of Physics sent letters to these scientists with a double request. At a minimum they were asked to answer a list of basic questions or send in a vita answering those questions, along with their list of publications. The second and more presumptuous request was to write autobiographical notes to be kept in the Niels Bohr Library archives. A list of questions was provided to show the sort of information desired.

From the July mailing, 80 responses have already been received, and more are arriving almost every day. Nearly all contain information which future researchers will find very useful. Some respondents were able to provide copies of extensive autobiographical materials that they had already prepared for other purposes, and a majority of the others either wrote up some pages of notes, or pledged to do so in coming months (or years). In previous surveys of this nature, valuable autobiographical materials have continued to reach AIP for years afterward.


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