The University of Iowa's Department of Physics and Astronomy is home to Iowa's most famous scientist, Dr. James A. Van Allen. The University of Iowa Archives, a division of the Special Collections Department in the University Libraries, has recently received the processed working papers of Dr. Van Allen, a pioneering space scientist and discoverer of the earth's radiation belts named in his honor. This important collection, entitled the James A. Van Allen Papers, marks a significant addition to the library's holdings, representing the first substantial collection of scientific material received by the University Archives. These papers present a uniquely diverse and replete record of America's post World War II advance into the space age and document the infancy and evolution of space science.
Formal processing of this collection began in January 1986. As a physics and astronomy major, I was hired by Dr. Van Allen to process these papers under the guidance of both the University of Iowa Archives and the Smithsonian Institution. Martin Collins and Allan Needell of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum formulated the processing strategy and provided expert advice throughout this project. The Department of Physics and Astronomy plus Earl M. Rogers of the University Archives also supported this project. In addition, Evelyn Robison's innumerable hours of hard work during her twenty eight year (and still counting) tenure as Dr. Van Allen's secretary were valuable to the project. However, it is Dr. Van Allen's support and unique input that have helped to make this endeavor such a success. A formal guide to this collection will be published once all material has been processed. Further papers from Dr. Van Allen's continuing research will be added to the collection at a later date.
In addition to the James A. Van Allen Papers, three distinct but related collections have also been processed. The first collection, Department of Physics and Astronomy Records under James A. Van Allen, chronicles the daily administration and operations of the department from 1951 to 1985. This collection reflects daily correspondence, personnel decisions, facility expansion, budgetary concerns, and the evolving University bureaucracy. The second collection, entitled Project Manager Mission Records, documents the administrative responsibilities of the Project Manager position first implemented in 1963 for Injun IV. A Project Manager works directly with the PI and mission engineers supervising scheduling, finance, and engineering matters. The third collection, entitled Mission Engineering Records, entails the technical aspects of building spacecraft instrumentation. Engineering specifications, correspondence, blueprints, integration, and test forms all reflect stages required in building instrumentation. Together these collections (240 linear feet) provide a complete overview of Dr. Van Allen's research; his pedagogical and professional activities; his tenure as Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy; and his leadership of a large management and engineering staff.
About this project
DIY History lets you do it yourself to help make historic artifacts easier to use. Our digital library holds hundreds of thousands of items -- much more than library staff could ever catalog alone, so we're appealing to the public to help out by attaching text in the form of transcriptions.