Guide to the Philip Hauge Abelson Papers 1937-1989
Cage 741

Summary Information

Repository
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries
Creator
Abelson, Philip Hauge
Title
Philip Hauge Abelson Papers
ID
Cage 741
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1962-1984
Date [inclusive]
1937-1989 1962-1984
Extent
4.0 boxes
General Physical Description note
2 Linear Feet of Shelf Space
Language
English
Abstract
The Philip H. Abelson papers offer a glimpse into the long and distinguished career of a research scientist and scientific editor. This collection includes publications by Abelson (some reprints and reproductions), notes, newspaper clippings, correspondence, speeches, and an interview transcript.

Preferred Citation note

[Item Description] Philip Hauge Abelson papers, 1937-1989

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

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Biographical/Historical note

Philip Hauge Abelson (1913-2004) was born in Tacoma, WA, to Ellen and Olaf Abelson. Both Ellen and Olaf had attended Washington State College, where Philip Abelson earned his bachelor's (chemistry) and master's (physics) degrees, and also met his wife Neva Martin, a fellow chemistry student. They married in 1936, while Abelson was completing his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, Abelson worked with pioneering nuclear scientists Ernest O. Livermore, Edwin McMillan, and Luis Alvarez, all eventual Nobel Prize winners. Abelson and McMillan co-discovered the element neptunium in 1940.

Earning his Ph.D. in 1939, Abelson spent the war years at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C., where he continued his nuclear research and developed the thermal diffusion process for separation of the fissionable Uranium-235 from U-238. Abelson's process, employed at the Oak Ridge laboratory, provided a breakthrough in the Manhattan Project and the eventual deployment of the uranium bomb. He also pursued research that led to the first nuclear submarine, scaling reactors for use on submarines. For his wartime work, Abelson received the U.S. Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Medal in 1945.

Abelson first joined the Carnegie Institution of Washington (now the Carnegie Institution for Science) in 1939 as an assistant physicist in its Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM). After wartime leave to work at NRL, Abelson returned to Carnegie's DTM in 1946 as chair of the Biophysics Section. In 1953 he became director of the Geophysical Laboratory. His long career at Carnegie concluded after he served as president from 1971 to 1978, and he served as a trustee until his death in 2004.

Upon his return to the Carnegie Institution after World War II, Abelson continued his cyclotron work that had begun at Berkeley, with a new focus: the production of radioactive tracers to study cell processes. In these years, Abelson extended his scientific training from chemistry and physics into biochemistry and microbiology. Abelson and his team used radioisotopes to examine the metabolism of Escherichia coli and amino acid synthesis as well as other intracellular processes. When Abelson moved into the directorship of the Geophysical Laboratory, he created another cross-disciplinary enterprise, biogeochemistry, in his study of amino acids in fossils and the Earth's biological history. A testament to his multi-disciplinary expertise was Abelson's election to the National Academy of Sciences, where he was eligible in any of seven sections: biochemistry, chemistry, engineering, geophysics, microbiology, physics, and geology.

His career as an editor began in 1958 with the Journal of Geophysical Research where he established his ability to publish quickly and expand readership, both of which contributed to his success as editor of the journal Science from 1962 to 1985. He became a consummate editor, conversant in research in many different fields, and a competent administrator who reduced publication time, implemented more efficient peer-review procedures, and fostered active science reporting, especially at the intersection of scientific research and public policy. Through his editorials, more than 450 in total, Abelson enlightened, as well as provoked, Science readers. He continued his association with Science and its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, until his death in 2004.

In 2003, Washington State University recognized Abelson and his wife Neva Martin Abelson by renaming Science Hall in their honor. Neva Martin Abelson died in 2000 after a distinguished career as a medical doctor who developed the Rh factor blood test.

During his long career, Philip Abelson was honored with many awards, including:

Member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine

Distinguished Civilian Service Medal (U.S. Navy), 1945

Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science from UNESCO, 1972

President's National Medal of Science, 1989

Public Welfare Medal from National Academy of Sciences, 1992

Vannevar Bush Distinguished Public Service Medal from National Science Foundation, 1996

First Recipient of WSU's Regents' Distinguished Alumnus Award, 1962

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Scope and Contents note

The Philip H. Abelson papers offer a glimpse into the long and distinguished career of a research scientist and scientific editor. This collection includes publications by Abelson (some reprints and reproductions), notes, newspaper clippings, correspondence, speeches, and an interview transcript.

The publications in this collection range from scientific papers written during Abelson's Berkeley graduate student days to those based on his research at the Carnegie Institution, and are dominated by the more than 450 editorials he produced as editor of Science from 1962 until 1985. In addition to published items, the collection includes several unpublished speeches.

The collection includes a comprehensive bibliography of Abelson's scholarly work through June 1979 created by Marjorie H. Walburn, who worked with Abelson as Assistant to the President of the Carnegie Institution.

Other items of special interest are materials related to the debate regarding the Apollo manned space program in the 1960s, in which Abelson was a prominent participant. Items in this sequence range from newspaper clippings to copies of addresses and congressional testimony. In April 1963, Abelson used his position as editor of Science to express his opposition to the Apollo manned missions, arguing that unmanned programs provided better scientific data at lower cost, and that public funding for science should be directed toward other priorities. Abelson was one of the scientists who testified before Congress in 1963 as the NASA budget and priorities were debated. He received considerable coverage in the popular press as he spoke about the Apollo program, NASA, and government funding of scientific research.

The final items in the collection were received with the label "PHA Notes--Yellow Pads in President's Office." These are notes--many of them very cryptic--made by Abelson, and possibly gathered and preserved directly from his Carnegie Institution desk. The original groupings have been retained. Though largely undated (except for notes on a 1971 trip to Chile and a 1971 reprint of a scientific paper), this aggregation of primarily handwritten notes on a wide variety of topics seems to come from Abelson's tenure as President of the Carnegie Institution from 1971 to 1978. The notes demonstrate the breadth and depth of Abelson's scientific thinking, as well as his decisions as the chief administrator in an independent scientific research organization. Topics include astronomy, medical research, geochemistry, geophysics, and plate tectonics. They show Abelson's thoughts about intersections of science and public policy including technology transfer, funding of science education and research, and the federal role, with comments on the Nixon Administration's science policy and on federal regulations especially with regard to the newly organized U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They also include budget calculations, possibly related to Carnegie projects.

The final series consists of an interview transcript from 1989 which was a later addition to the collection. The interview, conducted by Stephen W. Charry, concentrates on Abelson's early opposition to the manned Apollo program. Abelson assesses his time in the limelight, observing that he was "sufficiently obnoxious" that the media always called him when they wanted an opposing voice. More than a quarter century after the initial debate, Abelson remained skeptical about manned expeditions for the purpose of colonization of the Moon and/or Mars.

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Arrangement note

The collection is arranged in five series:

Series 1: Publications, speeches, and Walburn bibliography, 1937-1984

Subseries 1.1: Publications and speeches, 1937-1984. This subseries reflects Walburn's original filing order, essentially a simple chronological sequence where publications and speeches are sometimes grouped separately (1979-1984). In some cases, related items such as reader-response correspondence are filed with individual items. In the Container List below, published materials in this subseries are described collectively, and unpublished materials (all typescripts) are itemized.

Subseries 1.2: Walburn bibliography of Abelson, and miscellaneous items, circa 1965-1980. The bibliography in this subseries was created by Marjorie H. Walburn, who served as Assistant to the President of Carnegie Institution. In 1979 and 1980 she constructed the bibliography, assembling Abelson's publications and speeches, arranging them chronologically, and compiling a 39-page typescript that lists all publications and published speeches from 1937 through June 1979. The rest of the subseries consists of miscellaneous items.

Series 2: World War II atomic research, 1942-1956. This series consists of materials generated during Abelson's wartime work for the Naval Research Laboratory related to his liquid thermal diffusion process, and to the patent that he filed in 1942 for "Production of Uranium Hexafluoride," issued in 1956.

Series 3: "Comments Moon Race--President's Science Advisor (1963)," 1963-1970. This series includes materials related to the debate regarding the Apollo manned space program in the 1960s, in which Abelson was a prominent participant. Items in this sequence range from newspaper clippings to copies of addresses and congressional testimony. The original order of the items has been retained.

Series 4: PHA Notes: "Yellow Pads in President's Office," circa 1970s. This series consists of notes--many of these very cryptic--made by Abelson. The original groupings have been retained.

Series 5: Transcript of Stephen Charry interview regarding Apollo program, 1989

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries © 2016

http://www.libraries.wsu.edu/masc
Terrell Library
P.O. Box 645610
Pullman, WA, 99164-5610
509-335-6691
mascref@wsu.edu

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open and available for research use.

Conditions Governing Use note

Copyright restrictions apply.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Philip Hauge Abelson donated his papers to Washington State University through the WSU President's Office. In 1985 they were transferred to the WSU Libraries (MS 1985-15). One item was added to the collection later: the transcript from an interview with Dr. Abelson in 1989, conducted by WSU History graduate student Stephen W. Charry.

Processing Information note

This collection was processed by Susan Vetter in 2009.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

At Washington State University: Philip and Neva Abelson oral history interviews, 1989 (Cage 740).

At other institutions: the Library of Congress houses the bulk of Abelson's papers (MSS84803), and the American Institute of Physics holds records of three interviews with Abelson in 2002.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Project Apollo (U.S.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Abelson, Philip Hauge -- Archives.

Subject(s)

  • Colleges and Universities
  • Energy policy -- United States.
  • Manned space flight -- Government policy -- United States.
  • Nuclear physics.
  • Science
  • Science and state.
  • Scientists -- Archives.
  • Washington (State)

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Collection Inventory

Series 1: Publications, speeches, and Walburn bibliography, 1937-1984 

Subseries 1.1: Publications and speeches, 1937-1984 

Publications 

Box Folder

1937-1940 

1 1

1946-1950 

1 2

1952-1953 

1 3

1954-1955 

1 4

1956-1957 

1 5

1958-1959 

1 6

1960-1961 

1 7

1962 

1 8

1963 

1 9-10

1964 

1 11

1965 

1 12-13

1966 

1 14

1967 

1 15

1968 (including unpublished item: "Keynote Address: The Future of Science and Its Effects on Society") 

1 16

1969 

2 17

1970 (including unpublished item: "Toward a More Livable Environment," address presented upon receipt of the third Mellon Institute Award, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, 1970 April 10) 

2 18

1971 

2 19-20

1972 (including unpublished item: "Science in the Seventies," address delivered at Carnegie Institution, Washington, D.C., 1972 May 4) 

2 21

1973 (including unpublished item;"The Emerging Energy Crisis," address delivered at Dickinson College Joseph Priestley Celebration, Carlisle, PA, 1973 March 9) 

2 22

1974 

Box Folder

Publications 

2 23

Speeches, including unpublished items: "William Walden Rubey," remarks at the Memorial Service held at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., 1974 April 27; also "Energy for Tomorrow," Jessie and John Danz Lecture Series, University of Washin 

2 24
Box Folder

1975 

2 25

1976 

2 26

1977 

2 27

1978 (including unpublished item: "Opportunities for Scientists and Engineers," commencement address at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, 1978 May 23) 

2 28

Science editorials and speeches 

Box Folder

1979 (including unpublished items: "Industrial Research," abstract of address before Iowa Academy of Science, 1979 April 20; "New Directions in Toxicology," remarks at dedication of Laboratory of Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology at the Research T 

3 29

1980 (including unpublished items: "The Human Element in Scientific Communication," address presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, San Francisco, CA, 1980 January 14; "Factors Shaping Future Energy," ad 

3 30

1981 (including unpublished items: "Energy and Electronics in a Changing World," address presented at the 50th anniversary symposium, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, 1981 October; "Government Support of Research," address presented at the Zumb 

3 31

1982 (including unpublished items: untitled address presented to University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, 1982 September 14-16; "Future of Methane as an Energy Source," keynote address presented at Symposium III--Unconventional Methods in Exploration 

3 32

1983 (including unpublished items: untitled address presented to Energy Research Institute Symposium, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, 1983 January 10-11; untitled address presented to International Symposium on Amazonia, Belem, Para, Brazil, 1983 

3 33

1984 (including unpublished items: untitled acceptance address for National Science Foundation Distinguished Public Service Award, 1984 May 9; "Ellis Truesdale Bolton, Carnegie Institution of Washington Professor of Marine Studies," University of Delaware 

3 34

Subseries 1.2: Walburn bibliography of Abelson, and miscellaneous items, circa 1965-1980 

Box Folder

Marjorie Walburn bibliography of Philip H. Abelson, covering 1937-1980 (typescript), 1980 August 12 

3 35

"Science and Society's Future." Correspondence related to publication of article in the Italian journal Scienza e Tecnica and copy of article, adapted from "Science and Society's Future," Intercentury Seminar, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, circa 1965 

3 36

"John A. Fleming," Dictionary of American Biography. Correspondence, research materials (photocopies), manuscript; 1975-1980 

3 37

"Procedures in the Study of Fossil Amino Acids" (typescript), undated 

3 38

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Series 2: World War II atomic research, 1942-1956 

Box Folder

Abelson, Phillip [sic] H., Robert E. Ruskin, and Chad J. Raseman, "Memorandum to Director: Atomic Energy Submarine," approved by Ross Gunn and H.A. Schade, 1946 March 28 

3 39

Miscellaneous typescript items related to Uranium liquid thermal diffusion and the atomic bomb including "A Survey of the Literature Relevant to Liquid Thermal Diffusion" by H.M. Moseley 

3 39

Patent "Production of Uranium Hexafluoride" (filed 1942, issued 1956), 1956 

3 40

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Series 3: "Comments Moon Race--President's Science Advisor (1963)," 1963-1970 

Box Folder

"Comments Moon Race--President's Science Advisor, 1963" 

3 41-42

"Comments Moon Race--President's Science Advisor, 1963" (continued) 

4 43

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Series 4: "PHA Notes--Yellow Pads in President's Office," circa 1970s 

Box Folder

PHA Notes--Yellow Pads in President's Office" (manuscript notes by Abelson), circa 1970s 

4 44-47

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Series 5: Interview regarding Apollo program (transcript), 1989 

Box Folder

Transcript of oral history interview conducted by Stephen W. Charry, 1989 October 19 

4 48

Processing file 

4

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