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HUM 189

Ramsey, Norman, 1915-2011. Norman Ramsey personal archive, 1919-2010 and undated: an inventory

Harvard University Archives

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Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUM 189
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Ramsey, Norman, 1915-2011.
Title: Norman Ramsey personal archive, 1919-2010 and undated
Date(s): 1919-2010 and undated
Quantity: 101 cubic feet (88 record cartons, 36 document boxes, 7 card boxes, 1 microfilm box)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Norman Foster Ramsey, Jr. (1915-2011) was the Higgins Professor of Physics at Harvard University from 1966 to 1987 (emeritus, 1987). Ramsey's research focused on high energy physics and his methods of investigation, especially in the field of spectroscopy, led to the development of the atomic clock and laid the foundation for nuclear magnetic resonance, whose applications include the magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I.) technique now used for medical diagnosis. For this work, Ramsey was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physics in 1989. Aside from his research activities, Ramsey served as president of the Universities Research Association and was instrumental in the establishment of the National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois; was named the first scientific advisor to NATO in 1958, and was a leader in international scientific collaboration. The collection documents Ramsey's work as a researcher, teacher, writer, advisor, consultant, and administrator, revealing his leadership roles in scientific discovery, academic freedom, and the intersection of both fields with the heaviest concentration of material dating from 1945 to 1987. There is very little information available about Ramsey's involvement in the Manhattan Project or his activities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Acquisition information:

The Norman Ramsey personal archive was acquired by the Harvard University Archives through donation. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the folder list below.
The acquisitions are as follows:
  • Accession number: 14290; 2001 March 28
  • Accession number: 18208; 2010 October 13
  • Accession number: 18235; 2011 March 25
  • Accession number: 19213; 2013 December 9
  • Accession number: 2016.018; 2015 July 20
  • Processing Information:

    Processed March 2015-August 2015 by Dominic P. Grandinetti with assistance from Samuel Bauer, Adam Schutzman, and James Moore. Additional descriptive work was completed by Ross Mulcare, January 2016.
    Description of the Norman Ramsey personal archive was supported by the Harvard Library's Hidden Collection initiative.
    In preparing this collection, the archivist tried wherever possible to retain the original arrangement established by Ramsey. Processing details are described at the series level.
    Various accessions associated with the collection have not been merged and organized as a whole. Each accession is described separately, titled according to month and year of acquisition. Researchers should note that material within each accession overlaps with and may relate to material found in other accessions.
    Processing involved the rehousing of materials in appropriate archival containers, the establishment of series and subseries hierarchy, and the creation of this finding aid. Physical re-arrangement was minimal (restricted materials were placed at the end of the collection).
    Ramsey's original folder titles and titles on removable media were retained. Any folder titles and dates supplied by the archivist appear in brackets. Ramsey's original folders were chiefly retained throughout this collection and paper clips were not removed. In some cases, bound volumes and 3-ring binders stand alone and are not found in folders.

    Researcher Access:

    The Norman Ramsey personal archive is open for research use, with the following exceptions:
  • Access to Harvard University records in this collection is restricted for 50 years. Most of these records are found in Accession 14290, Harvard University Records: Harvard University files closed to research (HUM 189 boxes 95-124). The earliest restriction expires in 2016. The latest restriction expires in 2070.
  • Records concerning individuals, personnel and student records in particular, are closed for research for 80 years. These records appear throughout the collection; restrictions are noted at the folder level.
  • Access to Universities Research Association records requires written permission from the Universities Research Association.
  • Restricted materials have been separated into HUM 189 Boxes 95 through 132.

    Restrictions on use:

    Audiocassette tapes, reel-to-reel audio tapes, and digital content on removable media are closed for further review and formatting.
    Use restrictions are noted in the folder lists.

    Preferred Citation:

    Ramsey, Norman, 1915-2011. Norman Ramsey personal archive, 1919-2010 and undated. HUM 189, Harvard University Archives.

    Related material

    In the Harvard University Archives:
    In the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics (Array of Contemporary American Physicists):

    Biographical note

    Norman Foster Ramsey, Jr. (1915-2011) was the Higgins Professor of Physics at Harvard University from 1966 to 1987 (emeritus, 1987). Ramsey's research focused on high energy physics and his methods of investigation, especially in the field of spectroscopy, led to the development of the atomic clock and laid the foundation for nuclear magnetic resonance, whose applications include the magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I.) technique now used for medical diagnosis.
    Born on August 27, 1915, in Washington D.C., Ramsey received his BA from Columbia University in 1935, his MA from Cambridge University in 1941, and returning to Columbia, his PhD in 1940. Although Ramsey accepted a faculty position at the University of Illinois in 1940, the outbreak of World War II in Europe posed a serious challenge to the United States, and in September 1940, Ramsey joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory to develop microwave hardware for American radar installations. His efforts contributed to the development of a three-centimeter-wavelength radar system, the first of its kind, which was widely used during the war. In 1942, Ramsey was sent to Washington D.C. to advise the Secretary of War on radar development policy. In 1943, Ramsey began work on the Manhattan Project, a project designed to create an atomic weapon, as the Head of the Delivery Group at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Ramsey was charged with determining the necessary characteristics needed by an aircraft to carry and deliver an atomic bomb to its destination. In 1945, Ramsey returned to Columbia University to continue his research in the accurate measurement of atomic hydrogen. While at Columbia, Ramsey helped to establish a molecular beam laboratory and the Brookhaven National Laboratory (1946) in Upton, New York, a research facility dedicated to the exploration of the peaceful application of atomic energy.
    In 1947, Ramsey joined the Harvard physics department, where he taught for forty years and made lasting scientific contributions. Ramsey undertook and supervised several research related projects including the building of Harvard's first post-World War II cyclotron (1948), the establishment of a molecular beam laboratory (1948), the construction of the world's fastest cyclotron in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1956), and the erection of a 6-GeV Cambridge Electron Accelerator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1962). Moreover, Ramsey's laboratory studies at Harvard, centering on magnetic movements and interactions in molecules, as well as his studies in particle physics and atomic physics, laid the foundation for advances in the use of nuclear magnetic resonance for chemical analysis, applications which helped advance the use of magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I.) in medical diagnosis and the development of highly accurate atomic clocks. While at Harvard, Ramsey oversaw the work of several graduate students who became noted scientists including Nobel laureate David J. Wineland, Daniel Kleppner, Lester Wolfe Professor Emeritus of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Howard C. Berg, Herchel Smith Professor of Physics Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard.
    Although Ramsey's main contributions were as a scientist he also played a role as a policy advisor at the highest levels of government. In 1958 Ramsey was appointed the first science advisor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a position he used to establish a postdoctoral fellowship program for young scientists desiring to pursue research in NATO countries. In 1965, Ramsey was elected president of the Universities Research Association, a consortium of universities that managed the newly created National Accelerator Laboratory near Batavia, Illinois (later known as the Fermi National Accelerator or Fermilab). From 1960 to 1972, Ramsey served on the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, helping to craft policies designed to foster and control the peacetime development of atomic science and technology. In 1979 he chaired a congressional study committee that evaluated purported evidence showing that an additional shot was fired from a different site during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This evidence, which if validated would establish the existence of a conspiracy, was the recording of a shot-like noise from an open microphone on a parked police motorcycle. Ramsey assembled a panel of physicists, acoustical engineers, and other specialists to analyze the recordings, and concluded that the purported shot came about one minute after the fatal shots were fired and therefore was not indicative of a conspiracy. In later years, Ramsey served as president of the American Physical Society (1978), the chair of the governing board of the American Institute of Physics (1980-1986), and president of Phi Beta Kappa (2001-2003). After his retirement from Harvard in 1987, Ramsey accepted several visiting professorships including at the University of Colorado (1986-1987), the University of Chicago (1988), and the University of Michigan (1989-1992).
    Throughout his career Ramsey received many prestigious awards including the Presidential Certificate of Merit (1947), the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for outstanding contributions to experimental nuclear physics (1960), the Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic or Surface Physics (1974), and the Columbia Award for excellence in science (1980). He received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Medal of Honor in 1984 and the Nobel Prize in 1989. Ramsey was a Fellow of the American Physical Society (1940) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1952). A prolific writer, Ramsey published five books and was the author and co-author of more than 300 scientific papers.
    Ramsey married Elinor Jameson (1914-1983) in 1940. The couple had four children: Margaret (born 1942), Patricia (born 1946), Janet (born 1950), and Winifred (born 1950). In 1985, Ramsey married Ellie Welch. Ramsey died on November 4, 2011.

    Arrangement

    The collection is organized by accession:

    Scope and Contents

    The Norman Ramsey personal archive documents Ramsey's academic, scientific, and professional career as a physicist, with the heaviest concentration of material dating from 1945 to 1987. The collection is a valuable resource for research in the development of the field of high energy physics in the twentieth century and focuses on Ramsey's work in nuclear physics, molecular beam resonance, radar, nuclear magnetic moments, radiofrequency, spectroscopy, masers, and nuclear scattering. Aside from his research activities, Ramsey served as president of the Universities Research Association and was instrumental in the establishment of the National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois; was named the first scientific advisor to NATO in 1958, and was a leader in international scientific collaboration. The collection documents Ramsey's involvement as a researcher, teacher, writer, advisor, consultant, and administrator, revealing his leadership roles in scientific discovery, academic freedom, and the intersection of the two fields. Letters, reports, memoranda, and other records illustrate how scientific ideas and concepts develop and how academic organizations, learned societies, and government agencies influence scientific research and development. Ramsey was a prolific researcher, correspondent and author, and thus much of the collection consists of correspondence, published and unpublished articles, lectures, and course materials produced during his career. Researchers should note that there is some overlap of subject matter among the accessions. There is very little information available about Ramsey's involvement in the Manhattan Project or his activities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
    Letters, meeting minutes, reports, and other records chronicle Ramsey's association with several leading government and scientific organizations including the Universities Research Association (president, 1966-1983), the American Physical Society (president, 1978), the American Institute of Physics (chairman, governing board, 1980-1986), and the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission (member, 1960-1972). It should be noted that access to Universities Research Association files in this collection requires written permission from the organization. Additionally, Ramsey's efforts in formulating high energy physics national policy, research guidelines, and procedures; his advocacy of federal support for scientific research; and his work to improve the training and education of physicists is documented in this collection.
    Lecture notes, reports, lab notebooks, memoranda, and letters document Ramsey's teaching, scientific, and administrative career at Harvard University, highlighting his contributions to the planning and construction of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, his experimental research in nuclear physics, molecular beams, nuclear magnetic moments, spectroscopy, masers, and nucleon scattering, and his managerial skills in developing and supporting the Harvard Department of Physics in such areas as the recruitment and retention of faculty, the improvement of the physics curriculum, and the acquisition of funding for research programs. The growth of the physics program at Harvard University, the scientific interaction and relationship of the University with government and industry, and the mutually supportive role of science teaching and research at the college and university level are illustrated in this collection. Also documented is Ramsey's role as an advocate of academic freedom, as he fiercely defended the activities of fellow Harvard physics professor and accused Joseph McCarthy target Wendell Furry to both the Harvard Board of Overseers and more publicly to the American public on the Meet the Press television program in 1953. Letters expressing support and sentiments against Ramsey following his appearance on Meet the Press and Ramsey's personal notes on the Furry case are found in the collection.
    Letters and notebooks in the collection document Ramsey's early physics research, including magnetic resonance and nuclear scattering experiments, as an undergraduate and graduate student at Columbia University (1931-1935), the University of Cambridge (Clare College, 1935-1937), and the Carnegie Institution of Washington (1939-1940), with some of the leading physicists of his generation including Isidor Isaac Rabi (1898-1988), Paul Dirac (1902-1984), Max Born (1882-1970), and John Cockcroft (1897-1967). Additionally, Ramsey's war related efforts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory (1940-1942) helping develop radar systems for military applications; his work as a radar consultant to the Secretary of War and to the Army Air Corps (1943-1943); and his participation in the Manhattan Project which led to the development of the atomic bomb (1943-1945) is chronicled in this collection. Meeting minutes, letters, and memoranda also examine Ramsey's efforts to reestablish the molecular beam research program at Columbia University after World War II. Data books from 1942 to 1987 detail Ramsey's high energy physics research at Columbia University (1942-1947) and at Harvard University (1947-1987) in several topical areas including molecule nuclear interaction, electric dipole moments, separated oscillatory fields, nuclear magnetic shielding, and quantum mechanics. Containing notes, formulas, calculations, graphs, letters, reprints, and descriptions of research, the data books reveal the scientific experiments undertaken by Ramsey, his methods and procedures, and his instructions for the use and operation of scientific apparatus.
    Publications and semi-published literature chronicles Ramsey's scientific and technological investigations from molecular beams to particle physics, including the precision measurement of electric and magnetic properties of nucleons, nuclei, atoms, and molecules. Reports, articles, and reprints document Ramsey's development of experimental methods involving molecular beam resonance and successive oscillatory fields which advanced the development of scientific techniques in radiofrequency, microwaves, and laser spectroscopy; the invention of the hydrogen maser, which served as the fundamental basis for the development of the atomic clock; the improvement of special practices for low energy and molecular beam electric resonance experiments; and the accurate measurement of nuclear, neutron, and magnetic moments. Additionally, operation manuals written by Ramsey outline the use of equipment for high energy particle accelerators at Harvard University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the National Accelerator Laboratory (later known as the Fermi National Accelerator or Fermilab). Ramsey's experimental study of new phenomena and general physics principles including his examination of the electric dipole moment of the neutron, molecular beam measurements of molecules, and nuclear magnetic resonance, which became the basis of magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I) for medical diagnosis and magnetic resonance microscopy in research, are described in the literature. Although many of the publications in the collection pertain to Ramsey's physics research, several include Ramsey's reflections on general topics including the effect of new technologies in the teaching of physics, the need for a special tax to combat pollution, the role of basic science in national development, and the relationship of technology to economic growth. Articles include Ramsey's reminisces and anecdotes about events in which he participated including the establishment of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory, and the Universities Research Association. Ramsey's discourses on the history of atomic clocks, the early years of magnetic resonance, radiofrequency spectroscopy, and molecular beam research are included among the publications in this collection. Articles, reports, transcripts, news clippings and reel-to-reel audio tapes document Ramsey's involvement in refuting Senator Joseph McCarthy's charges that Harvard was harboring communists, including Associate Professor Wendell H. Furry, a professor in Harvard's physics department, during the McCarthy Era (1950-1956); while letters, meeting minutes, and reports examine Ramsey's service on a congressional study committee in 1979 that evaluated purported evidence that an additional shot was fired from the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
    The printed materials in this collection from 1935 to 2008 including articles, reprints, manuscripts, book chapters, congressional testimonies, speeches, and newsletters, authored by other scholars, document scientific discoveries in the field of high energy physics, principally in the second half of the twentieth century. Generally used by Ramsey to support his research and teaching activities, the printed materials enable researchers to understand how scientific ideas and concepts originated, to trace scientific innovation in the field of physics, and to recognize historical patterns and long-term trends in science and technology.
    This collection also contains a limited amount of personal records pertaining to Ramsey including biographical sketches, honorary degrees, photographs, news clippings, and photocopies of patents. A collection of oral histories documenting Ramsey's accomplishments as a researcher, teacher, and administrator from the 1940s to 2000s is also found in this collection.

    Inventory update

    This document last updated 2016 November 9.

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