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Jack Dunitz Papers, 1927-2009

By Finding aid prepared by Chris Petersen, Ryan Wick, and Trevor Sandgathe.

Collection Overview

Title: Jack Dunitz Papers, 1927-2009

ID: MSS Dunitz

Primary Creator: Dunitz, Jack D.

Extent: 30.0 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The Jack Dunitz Papers have been organized into six series which are further arranged either alphabetically or chronologically, as appropriate. In addition to traditional archival materials, the collection includes a large volume of born digital word processing files, which have been printed out and inserted into the paper collection. An electronic repository of the born digital component of the collection in its original state is maintained on site.

Languages of Materials: English [eng], German [ger]


Jack Dunitz (b. 1923) is an internationally recognized crystallographer and expert on molecular structure. Over the course of his lengthy career - including more than three decades spent at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology - Dunitz has established himself as a leading expert in his field. He is responsible for several major structural discoveries, the refinement of numerous crystallographic techniques, and the publication of nearly four-hundred scientific articles and reviews. The Dunitz Papers include personal correspondence, institutional records, research notes, scientific articles and reprints, teaching materials, manuscripts and photographs, the bulk of which date from 1941 to 2008.

Access to the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre and the Royal Society correspondence in Series 1 is restricted due to the presence of confidential information. All requests for access to this material should be directed to the University Archivist.

Scope and Content Notes

The Jack Dunitz Papers include 30 linear feet of personal correspondence, institutional records, research notes, scientific articles and reprints, teaching materials, and manuscripts spanning his career from 1941-2008. In addition, 42.9 megabytes of born digital letters and manuscripts originally created using WriteNow word processing software have been converted to contemporary file types, printed out and organized into the collection's paper files. Materials are in English and German.

Biographical / Historical Notes

Jack David Dunitz was born on March 29, 1923 in Glasgow, Scotland. He attended primary and secondary school in Glasgow, where he established himself as an intelligent child and a capable rugby player. It was during this time that he first became interested in chemistry, leading him to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry at Glasgow University in 1940. Due to the strains of World War II, Dunitz's studies at Glasgow were condensed into three years and, following graduation, he entered the university's doctoral program under the supervision of John Monteath Robertson. Largely due to the pressures of Robertson's official responsibilities, Dunitz's experience as a doctoral student was primarily one of self-motivated learning and informal collaboration with other students. It was during this time that he began to work intensively with x-ray crystallography. He was assigned to the determination of the crystal structures of acetylenedicarboxylic acid dihydrate and diacetylenedicarboxylic acid dihydrate - a difficult and tedious process that took three years to complete.

At Glasgow Dunitz became familiar with the work of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, an internationally known crystallographer. Upon receiving his Ph.D., he took a position at Oxford as a postdoctoral researcher under Hodgkin's supervision. During his time in her laboratory, Dunitz met some of the most influential figures in twentieth century science including Sir Lawrence Bragg, John Desmond Bernal, and Max Perutz. There, he embarked on an extensive research program that included determining the structure of a calciferol derivative - a molecule that, at the time, was the most complex structure ever determined through means of x-ray crystallography - and the study of a tetraphenylcyclobutane structure. Through this work, he was introduced to Verner Schomaker who suggested that Dunitz begin gas-phase electron diffraction studies and helped to equip Dunitz with a research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. After completing his work at Oxford, Dunitz left England for California where, in 1948, he began his work at Caltech. There, he met many of the scientists responsible for developing the field of modern structural chemistry including Linus Pauling and Robert Corey.

After three years at Caltech, Dunitz returned to Oxford where he learned theoretical chemistry from fellow researcher Leslie Orgel. It was during this period that Dunitz, Orgel, Sydney Brenner, and Dorothy Hodgkin visited Francis Crick and James Watson at Cambridge and became some of the first people to see the double helix model of DNA. After a year of work on ferrocene at Oxford, Dunitz returned to Caltech accompanied by his new bride, Barbara. While there, he met Alexander Rich and was recruited to set up a structural chemistry lab at the NIH Institute of Mental Health. Unfortunately, he quickly found himself uncomfortable at the NIH and returned to England, where he accepted a position as Senior Research Fellow at the Davy-Farraday Laboratory at The Royal Institution in London. Despite working under Sir Lawrence Bragg, who had dedicated himself to protein crystallography, Dunitz continued his collaboration with Leslie Orgel in the application of crystal-field theory.

In the early fall of 1957, Dunitz was offered an associate professorship at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology with an explicit order to create a first class x-ray crystallography group. He took the position in October 1957 and was promoted to Full Professor in 1964. Supported by the security of a permanent position and a great deal of autonomy, Dunitz began to apply the skills he had learned at Oxford and Caltech. He began work on synthetic ionophores, medium-ring compounds, relationships between crystal and chemical systems, phase transformations, and advanced crystallographic methods - a research program that he continued until his retirement in 1990. During his time in Zurich, he received extensive recognition from the international scientific community, resulting in awards, fellowships, and invitations of membership from the London Chemical Society, Harvard University, the Swiss Chemical Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, and the American Crystallographic Association, among others. Dunitz has published nearly four hundred research articles and reviews as well as several texts on structural chemistry.

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 67 boxes; 42.9 megabytes

Statement on Access: Access to the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre and the Royal Society correspondence in Series 1 is restricted due to the presence of confidential information. All requests for access to this material should be directed to the Univeristy Archivist.

Physical Access Note: Physical quality of materials in The Jack Dunitz Papers ranges from good to very good.

Acquisition Note:

All physical materials (30 linear feet) were received by OSU Libraries Special Collections from Jack Dunitz via post on March 29, 2010.

All born digital materials (42.9 megabytes) were received by OSU Libraries Special Collections from Jack Dunitz via post on May 17, 2010.

Separated Materials: Not all correspondence was deposited with the collection and separated material may no longer be extant.

Related Materials:

Related materials can be found in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers (MSS Pauling) and A Liking for the Truth: Truth and Controversy in the Work of Linus Pauling event website.

See also: "Space Filling in Molecular Solids" and La Primavera: An Autobiographical Rememberance

Preferred Citation: Jack Dunitz Papers (MSS Dunitz), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

Processing Information: Final arrangement by Chris Petersen, Reed Strickland and Trevor Sandgathe.

Other URL: A preliminary container list was created for this collection on or before November 19, 2015.


Dunitz, Jack D.
Burgi, Hans-Beat
Gajdusek, D. Carleton (Daniel Carleton) (1923-2008)
Hodgkin, Dorothy (1910-1994)
Orgel, Leslie E.
Pauling, Linus (1901-1994)
Trueblood, Kenneth N.

People, Places, and Topics

California Institute of Technology
Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre
Dunitz, Jack D.
Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zurich
Gajdusek, D. Carleton (Daniel Carleton), 1923-2008
History of Science
Molecular structure.
Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994
Prelog, V. (Vladimir), 1906-1998
Robertson, J. Monteath (John Monteath)
University of Glasgow
X-ray crystallography.

Forms of Material

Born digital.
Photographic prints.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.