Skip to main content

Albert Overhauser papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 485

Scope and Contents

The Albert Overhauser Papers (1920s-2010s; 26.2 cubic feet) documents the professional work and achievements of Purdue professor Albert Overhauser.  The collection contains a vast array of correspondence, notebooks, dissertations and theses, grant applications, graphs and figures, published articles, teaching materials, and other items related to Overhauser’s studies at the University of California at Berkeley and work at Cornell University, the Ford Motor Company, and Purdue University.  The collection almost entirely consists of documents and materials related to Overhauser’s professional work as one of the leading American physicists of his time.


  • 1920s-2010s
  • Other: Date acquired: 03/05/2012


Conditions Governing Access

Majority of collection is open for research.  Materials in Boxes 6 and 10 are restricted for reasons of confidentiality.

Conditions Governing Use

Purdue University per deed of gift

Biographical or Historical Information

Born in San Diego, California, on August 17, 1925, Albert W. Overhauser was best known for the “Overhauser Effect,” a theory of dynamic nuclear polarization.  Overhauser attended the University of California at Berkeley until his undergraduate studies were interrupted by World War II.  After serving two years (1944-1946) as a radar specialist in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Overhauser returned to Berkeley and graduated Magna Cum Laude with BA degrees in physics and mathematics in 1948.  He remained at Berkeley to earn a PhD in physics three years later. During two years post-doctoral work at the University of Illinois, Overhauser developed his theory of dynamic nuclear polarization, more popularly known as the Overhauser Effect.  He afterwards taught at Cornell University (1953-1958) and served on the research staff of the Ford Motor Company (1958-1973).  In 1973, Overhauser joined the faculty at Purdue University as the Stuart Distinguished Professor of Physics, a position he held for three decades.  His most substantial work – that pertaining to the Overhauser Effect – came in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), which has been widely applied in the disciplines of biomedical science, clinical medicine, macromolecular biology, pharmacology, plant science, and structural biology. During his long career, Professor Overhauser obtained much acclaim in the scientific community.  He was elected a member of the National Academy of Science in 1976.  A year earlier, Overhauser was the recipient of the Oliver E. Buckly Solid State Physics Prize.  He received honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago (1979), Simon Fraser University (1998), and Purdue University (2005).  The greatest honor came in 1994, when Overhauser was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Bill Clinton.   The National Medal of Science remains the highest honor bestowed on scientists by the U.S. Government. Professor Overhauser died of natural causes on December 10, 2011.  He was survived by his wife, Margaret, and their eight children. Sources: Wikipedia entry for Albert Overhauser, Materials within the collection

Note written by John Michael Foster


26.20 Cubic Feet

26.2 cubic feet (21 c.f. boxes, 12 mss. boxes, 2 flat boxes) other_unmapped

Language of Materials



Correspondence, teaching materials, research and professional materials, dissertations and theses, awards, publications, and other materials pertaining to the work and achievements of Purdue physicist Albert Overhauser and his contemporaries.

Arrangement Note

The Papers are organized into seven series: 1.  Overhauser’s Undergraduate, Graduate, and Post-Doctoral Coursework, 1940s-1950s (1.4 cubic feet).  Composition books and notebooks kept by Overhauser during his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of California Berkeley and post-doctoral work at the University of Illinois. Materials in the series are arranged by course.    2.  Correspondence, 1951-2008 (2.0 cubic feet).  Correspondence sent and received by Overhauser.  The correspondence largely relates to Overhauser’s professional activities, and particularly concerns his interaction with other scientists in the field of physics.  The bulk of the correspondence was written between 1956 and 1982. Materials in the series are arranged chronologically. 3.  Teaching Materials, 1950s, 1970s-2000s (3.8 cubic feet).  Teaching materials utilized by Overhauser as a professor of physics at Cornell University and Purdue University.  Materials include graded exams (1970s-2000s), problem sets (1970s-2000s), lecture notes (1950s, 2000s, undated), exams and exam drafts (1950s, 1970s-2000s), student grades (1950s, 1990s-2000s), and miscellaneous materials(1950s, 1970s-2000s, undated).  Graded exams (Boxes 5 and 6) and student grades (Box 10) are restricted to protect the confidentiality of Overhauser’s former students. Materials in the series are arranged chronologically by document type. 4.  Research and Professional Activities, 1950s-2000s (8.9 cubic feet).  Correspondence, experiment test results, graphs, grant materials, notes, publications, publication materials, transparencies, and other items documenting Overhauser’s research and professional activities as a physics scholar.    Materials in the series are arranged chronologically.  Many items remain in their original folders. 5.  Publications by Overhauser, 1949-2002 (2.2 cubic feet).  Published articles and reports authored and coauthored by Overhauser between 1949 and 2002.  Materials in the series are arranged chronologically. 6.  Awards and Honors, 1970s-2010s (0.5 cubic feet).  Certificates, newspaper articles, booklets, photographs, and other materials concerning awards and honors bestowed upon Overhauser for his professional achievements. Materials in the series are arranged by document type. 7.  Dissertations and Theses, 1950s, 1970s-2000s (2.0 cubic feet).  Dissertations and theses submitted by Overhauser’s Cornell University and Purdue University students between 1955 and 1959, and from 1977 to 2009, respectively. Materials in the series are arranged chronologically. 8.  Discipline Publications, 1920s-2000s (5.4 cubic feet).  Articles and other materials published by Overhauser’s colleagues in the field of physics and related scientific disciplines. Materials in the series are arranged alphabetically by author’s last name and chronologically by year of publication.  In the case of multiple authors, materials are arranged alphabetically by the first author listed on the publication.

Source of Acquisition

Donated by Margaret Overhauser on March 12, 2012 and June 25, 2012.

Processing Information

Materials in Series 1-3 and 5-8 have been organized by subject and/or document type.  In most cases, items comprising these series were re-housed in acid-free folders.  Materials in folders comprising Series 4 remain in their original order, but the folders themselves are arranged chronologically.  When possible, items in Series 4 were left in their original folders with their original headings, which are noted, when applicable, in the attached inventory.  Items originally housed in hanging folders have been removed from those folders and placed in acid-free folders.  All materials in the collection are housed in acid-free manuscript and cubic foot boxes.
Albert Overhauser papers
In Progress
John Michael Foster
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 W. State Street
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States