AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXX, No. 2, Fall 1998


On The Written Trail Of Science: The Laboratory Notebook

Contemporary scientific archives are at the crossroads of numerous questions on the changing face of the written heritage. Because of the development of data-processing, rough copies from scientific research, and preparatory documents for presenting results are today rarely kept. The same applies to written correspondence between researchers, which now takes place by electronic mail. The real path followed by research work, with its trial and error, its question marks, and its hesitations is therefore difficult to reconstruct. One of the only documents to have escaped from this covering over of tracks is the laboratory notebook. Personal and unique through the way it is written and through its contents, the laboratory notebook makes it possible to trace the path followed by scientific work. These notebooks and their use in contemporary physics are currently the subject of research by Odile Welfel , conservatrice en chef du Patrimoine aux Archives nationales de France and in charge of a "mission des archives" at CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique). The CNRS is the biggest organization for the management of science in France. This work was done as part of the ARISC Research Program (Archives Issues des Sciences Contemporaines - Archives from Contemporary Sciences Program) supported by the CNRS and by the Ministry of Culture. Photographs and inquiries are part of this program. An exhibition will present photos of physicists in their laboratories and of chosen pages of their notebooks in December 1998 at the Cit des Sciences et de l'Industrie, la Villette, Paris.

More details on the web site or contact Odile Welfel , conservatrice en chef du Patrimoine, Mission des Archives nationales auprès du CNRS, MIST, 3 rue Michel-Ange, 75794 Paris cedex 16; phone 33 1 44 96 46 47; Fax 33 1 44 96 50 02; e-mail

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