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Lars Onsager papers

Call Number: MS 794

Scope and Contents

Lars Onsager was Yale University's first resident Nobel Laureate, receiving the prize in chemistry in 1968 for his discovery of the Onsager reciprocal relations in the thermodynamics of irreversible processes. His papers are almost entirely related to his professional career and contain research materials, descriptions of his scientific projects, writings and speeches. While the range of materials coincides almost exactly with his long tenure at Yale University, the bulk of the papers are concentrated in the 1960s and 1970s. The personal materials are confined to Series VII (BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL) which contains memoirs, interviews, photographs and family history. The papers are arranged in eight series.
Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, contains only a small fraction of the letters that Onsager must have received and sent in his career. (Additional correspondence will be found in Series II-VI, filed topically as Onsager left it.) Most are from the mid-1960s or later. The incoming letters far outnumber the copies of the outgoing, and the latter are particularly concentrated in the last few years of Onsager's life. A few letters contain substantive scientific discussion, but most are routine.

Series II, RESEARCH MATERIAL, consists of scientific notes arranged by topic together with related manuscripts, correspondence and printed matter. Folders in this series are grouped in the following thirteen categories, each representing an area of Onsager's research:Dielectrics, Electrolytes, Ice, Irreversible Processes, Thermal Diffusion, Ising Model, Metals and Semiconductors, Liquid Helium, Hydrodynamics, Surface Tension, Origin of Life, Mathematics, andUnclassified. The contents of each folder remain exactly as Onsager left them; no reorganizing of the research material was done in any of the folders.

Series III, WRITINGS, consists of three sections:Publications, Pre-Publication MaterialandLecture Series. The first two sections are keyed to the bibliography of Onsager's works published by the Royal Society in 1978. Also included in the papers are several titles not listed in the bibliography.Pre-Publication Materialcontains manuscripts and editorial matter preliminary to publication for about half of Onsager's publications, as well as several unpublished manuscripts.Lecture Seriesconsists of edited transcripts of Onsager's classroom lectures at Yale University and the University of Miami. (Series II and IV also contain some texts of Onsager lectures.)

Series IV, CONFERENCES, contains correspondence, programs, abstracts, transcripts of papers and other documentation of scientific meetings. These papers are arranged in two sections:Onsager TextandNo Onsager Text. In the first category the researcher will find either a text or abstract of a paper delivered by Onsager at the conference.

Series V, PROJECTS & INSTITUTIONS, consists of correspondence, financial records and memoranda of meetings connected with Onsager's activities as the principal investigator in numerous research projects. The sponsoring government agencies which awarded grants to Onsager include: the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. In addition to the records of his work at Yale University and the University of Miami, this series contains correspondence and other papers showing his participation in projects at other institutions: viz: the Neurosciences Research Program at MIT, as Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University, Gauss Professor at the University of Göttingen and Lorentz Professor at the University of Leiden. His projects at Yale University are documented only from 1961.

Series VI, AWARDS & HONORS, consists of correspondence, programs, congratulatory letters and texts of presentations related to Onsager's receipt of the Nobel Prize and several other awards, as well as conferences arranged in his honor. Included here are also the texts of Onsager's lectures or remarks on these occasions.

Series VII, BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, consists of clippings, photographs, and biographical sketches.

Series VIII, WRITINGS OF OTHERS, contains preprints, reprints and other writings by scientists other than Lars Onsager. Some of the items carry a few words of greeting or dedication from the author. (Similar material is kept, as Onsager filed it, in Series I-II and IV-VI.)

The Lars Onsager Papers were deposited in the Yale University Library by his widow, Margarete Arledter Onsager in 1977 and 1979. Stefan Machlup of Case Western Reserve University and Philip A. Lyons, William W. Watson, Raymond M. Fuoss, Andrew Patterson, Jr. and Derek Leaist of Yale University kindly helped arrange the research material in Series II.

A tape recording of an interview with Onsager made after a Conference on the Theory of Irreversible Thermodynamics [1955?], made by Manuscripts and Archives from a copy in the possession of Stefan Machlup, has been transferred to Historical Sound Recordings.

The microfilm of the Lars Onsager Papers was produced by the Yale University Library Photographic Services Department during the summer of 1981 with funding provided by the Yale University Department of Chemistry. The film consists of material selected from the Lars Onsager Papers on deposit in Manuscripts and Archives and a few items loaned by the Kline Science Library. The papers were filmed in the order in which they are arranged as Manuscript Group Number 794. [1] A copy of the register, annotated with reel numbers, appears on the first reel of the film and serves as a guide to the film. [2]

In choosing material to be filmed the following criteria were used:

[1] Though all oversize material is stored in a folio at the end of the collection, on the film it appears in context with other related material

[2] After the filming a small amount of reprocessing took place; therefore a careful researcher may notice occasional discrepancies between the register and the film.


  • 1926-1977


Conditions Governing Access

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Originals deposited by Margarete Adleter Onsager, 1977 and 1979. Originals removed by family in 1982 and placed in the Norweigan University of Science and Technology.


The collection is arranged in eight series and includes restricted and oversize material: I. Correspondence, 1930-1976, n.d. II. Research Material, [pre-1930?]-1976. III. Writings, 1926-1977. IV. Conferences, 1935-1977. V. Projects & Institutions, 1946-1976. VI. Awards & Honors, 1952-1976. VII. Biographical Material, 1938, 1953-1978. VIII. Writings of Others, 1931-(1961-1976).

Existence and Location of Originals

The originals are held by the Norweigan University of Science and Technology.


16 Linear Feet (16,000 frames)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, research materials for articles and lectures, teaching materials related to Yale University and the University of Miami, and citations for awards received by Lars Onsager, notably the Nobel Prize in 1968.

Biographical / Historical

Lars Onsager was a chemist and university professor. He taught at Johns Hopkins University in 1928; at Brown University, 1928-1933; and at Yale University, 1933-1972. Onsager was the winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1968. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, and the author of many articles.
Guide to the Lars Onsager Papers
Under Revision
by Susan Grigg
August 1981
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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