CMU gets grant to preserve archives of Nobel laureate

The family of Dr. Clifford Glenwood Shull, the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for physics and a Carnegie Tech alumnus, will donate papers and notes from his career to Carnegie Mellon University, which will place them in an archived collection. Shull passed away in March 2001, but his family has given his work to CMU to record and maintain for researchers.

The long-term archiving project will take roughly nine months and will involve a detailed and careful recording of Shull's papers, which span from 1937 to 1986. The collection contains a variety of papers, ranging from research papers to personal notes and homework assignments.

"We are also finding correspondence pertaining to his research and the work of other physicists worldwide. There is much information surrounding his Nobel Prize, including videos, photos, and many letters of congratulations. We have even found a good number of his textbooks from when he was an undergrad at Carnegie Tech — complete with little Tech pennant stickers on the inside covers," said Jennie Benford, a University archivist on the project.

The collection comprises 40 boxes, with 20 holding books and the others holding awards, photographs, and videos. There is a wide variety of research topics that his collection covers. Researchers may be most intrigued by his work on antiferromagnetism, the mapping of hydrogen atoms in palladium, describing the magnetic structure of Fe3Al, and the Nobel Prize-winning work on the crystal structure of ice and water.

"The scientific papers of Clifford Shull are a real treasure to have at Carnegie Mellon. Even a brief look at part of the collection gives one an appreciation of the combination of careful, intensive work and clearly stated insights that are essential components of Shull's Nobel Prize-winning research," said Fred Gilman, head of the department of physics, in a press release.

The American Institute of Physics has given an $8000 grant to support the work to archive the papers, and Shull's sons have made an additional gift of an undisclosed amount to digitize the collection for online posting. His sons have cited the strong influence that Carnegie Tech had on their father as the reason for the donation. The project will comprise two portions: the processing of the work, which involves arranging, preserving, and describing the collection, and then digitization. Archivists will have to go through each box, remove staples and paper clips, store the papers in acid-free folders, and then describe the contents of each paper to create a search guide for researchers. Then they will have to digitize as many papers as possible for researchers to access online. The original documents and items that cannot be digitized will be available for researchers and others to view in person.

Shull's papers are technical in nature, and are geared for use by the physics community. "[The digitized papers] act as advertisements to researchers who get some of what they want online and then come to the archives for more. Making his papers available online will definitely create a demand that we expect to travel far and wide," said Benford. A great deal of the work Shull did is already being seen in his papers and will prove useful for researchers.

Researchers will be able to search the digitized archive. CMU plans on using press releases, announcements on the library webpage, and word of mouth to ensure that the physics community knows that the collection exists for viewing.

"Luckily, Dr. Shull's name speaks for itself. Many people in and connected to the physics community know of his work already and we expect them to be very receptive to the idea of his papers being available for research," Benford said.

Shull was born in Pittsburgh in 1915, graduated from Schenley High School, and received a partial scholarship to Carnegie Tech. He attended New York University for his graduate work, earning a PhD in nuclear physics in 1941. There, he worked on experiments in electron double scattering, which formed the basis of his thesis. He worked at Texaco and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and accepted a teaching position at MIT in 1956, from which he retired 30 years later.