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Papers of Paul C. Lauterbur


Held at: Science History Institute Archives [Contact Us]315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Science History Institute Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Paul C. Lauterbur (1929-2007) is best known for his invention of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which earned him the Nobel Prize in 2003. From his earliest days as a child growing up in the Miami Valley, near Dayton, Ohio. Lauterbur exhibited a strong interest in science In middle school he attempted to make rocket fuel with his chemistry set in his parent's basement. Lauterbur's rocket fuel experiment earned him a trip to the hospital but did nothing dampen his enthusiasm for chemistry. Due to his tendency to receive poor marks in subjects that didn't hold his interest and heady nature, Lauterbur's parents considered placing him on a mechanical, rather than academic track. They believed it might be better for Lauterbur to have a marketable physical skill. Lauterbur would have missed his career in chemistry if not for his high school teacher, John McDerrmont. McDerrmont allowed Lauterbur to independently study college level chemistry. After placing first in the Ohio state chemistry exams, Lauterbur was assured the opportunity to go to college. Lauterbur nearly completed an undergraduate degree in Industrial Chemistry at Case Institute of Technology, before switching his focus to Chemistry. After graduating in 1951, Lauterbur was hired by Dow Corning to work at their research laboratories at Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. Lauterbur worked with silicone under Peter Warrick, the inventor of silicone rubber and silly putty. Working at the Mellon Institute allowed Lauterbur to take free graduate courses at the University of Pittsburgh. Lauterbur was the first student in a joint physics and chemistry program. He would eventually earn his PhD in 1962, in chemistry. After attending a seminar given by Herbert Gutowski, the father of NMR in chemistry during the 1952-53 school year, Lauterbur decided that he wanted to learn more about how nuclear magnetic resonance was used in chemistry to study molecular compounds. Lauterbur approached Gutowski and suggested a collaborative effort to study synthetic silanes. Before they could begin their work, in 1953 Lauterbur was drafted into the Army. After first finding himself in a tank battalion, Lauterbur was reassigned to Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, Maryland. Initially tasked with the development of chemical weapons. Despite never having worked with one, Lauterbur convinced the Army that he could operate their new state of the art NMR spectrometer. Over the next thee years, Lauterbur taught himself how to use the NMR spectrometer while reading nearly 400 papers on the state of the field. By the time he was discharged in 1955, Lauterbur was already working on the cutting edge of the field, working with the newly discovered 31 P chemical shifts. Working once again for Dow Corning and now with his own NMR spectrometer, Lauterbur quickly produced useful spectra of silicon from 29S. As unprecedented as this was, Lauterbur set his sites higher, realizing that his work with 29Si could help him obtain spectra of 13C. Lauterbur's work with 13C proved groundbreaking. This work continues to have applications in organic chemistry, medical diagnosis and the oil and food industries. If Lauterbur never did anything else, he would be known for his work with 13C. It would be another twenty years before Lauterbur's work was repeated and continued by others. Lauterbur's work quickly earned him acclaim in the field. By 1962, Lauterbur was ready to finish his PhD and leave Dow Corning. In 1963 Lauterbur accepted a position as an Associate Professor at Stony Brook University. After a new chemistry building opened, Lauterbur began to study NMR spectroscopy of protons. Using lessons learned with 13C and aided by increasingly powerful computers Lauterbur obtained the first 13C spectra of a protein crystal while on sabbatical at Stanford in 1969.

For a more detailed inventory, please view this record in our library catalog:

The arrangement of this collection was imposed by the archivist. Lauterbur had no discernible filing system. Much of his material was kept together in loose groupings, i.e. Projects, correspondence, student file, etc. Wherever possible' Lauterbur's system was kept in place. The correspondence and publication series are in their original orders. The Correspondence Series is divided into three sub-series alphabetic and chronologic correspondence. Subseries A and B are arrangement methods employed by Lauterbur. Sub-series A and B are arrangement methods employed by Lauterbur. Sub-series C was added from a later acquisition. The correspondence series covers the years 1956-2007. Notable correspondents include Herbert Gutowski, Peter Mansfield, Don Hollis, Varian Instruments, and Bruker-Physik. The Research Series is arranged in 21 sub-series based on Lauterbur's areas of research and interest. The series arrangement is chronologic, although some of Lauterbur's work spanned his entire career. The research series also loosely follows Lauterbur's time as a Mellon Fellow, Stony Brook Professor, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Sub-Series A: 13C and other Heteronuclei, 1956-1979 and Sub-Series C: NMR Zeugmatography/MRI 1971-1997. are of particular importance. Sub-Series C contains the research at Stony Brook University that lead Lauterbur to develop magnetic resonance imaging, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003. The other Sub-Series contain the record of Lauterbur's development of MRI contrast agents, microscopy, spectroscopy, electrically active gels, patents and inventions, as well as Lauterbur's work on the origins of life. The Professional Activities Series contains Lauterbur's work outside of the laboratory from 1955-2005. The series is arranged in 6 sub-series that document his teaching activities, student's work, meeting attendance and participation, as well as his work as a consultant. Items of note in the series include the 1978 Gordon Conference where Lauterbur presented his work with MRI contrast agents. The Meetings Sub-Series is a fairly comprehensive look at the meetings, conferences and other events that Lauterbur attended, planned and participated in. The Publications Series, 1956-2008 follows Lauterbur's original order. All of his publications are arranged chronologically and match numbers given to them by Lauterbur. CV#317-#321 and #323 are missing from the collection. The Correspondence Sub-Series was an addition by the archivist; it follows Lauterbur's alphabetic style of arrangement. The unpublished materials are another archivist addition, to show the larger scope of Lauterbur's work. The Publicity and Awards Series, 1974-2010 contains 2 Sub-Series. The Publicity Sub-Series contains press releases and newspaper articles pertaining to Lauterbur. There are a number of newspaper articles showcasing Lauterbur after he won a Nobel Prize in 2003. Items in the Publicity Sub-Series are arranged alphabetically by publishing body. The Awards Sub-Series documents the awards Lauterbur received including the 2003 Nobel in Physiology or Medicine, the Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1984, the National Medal of Technology in 1987. Items in the Awards Sub-Series are arranged chronologically.

Organized into 6 series. I.Biographical Data 1945-2006; II.Correspondence, 1956-2007 III.Research, 1955-2007; IV.Professional Activities, 1955-2005; V.Publications 1956-2008; VI.Publicity and Awards 1974-2010.

Source of acquisition--Dr. Joan Dawson . Method of acquisition--Gift ;; Date of acquisition--2009..

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