Papers and correspondence of Samuel Tolansky, 1907-1973

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers cover all aspects of Tolansky's activities and interests. They include biographical material, material relating to Tolansky's department at Royal Holloway College, notebooks and working papers, 1935-1969, and many drafts for publications, reviews and broadcast talks (some additional to those listed in the official bibliography of the Royal Society memoir). There is material relating to Tolansky's service on many committees and advisory boards and to conferences, demonstrations and exhibitions. There is extensive correspondence with professional colleagues, scientific instrument manufacturers, industrial firms, publishers, and many members of the general public via his popular writings, children's lectures and radio and television programmes.

Administrative / Biographical History

Tolansky was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and educated there at Rutherford College (Boys' School), 1919-1925, and Armstrong College (then part of Durham University), 1925-1929, where he undertook his first research under W.E. Curtis, 1929-1931. In 1931 he was awarded the Earl Grey Fellowship of Durham University to work in F. Paschen's laboratory at the Physikalisch-Technische Reichanstalt in Berlin. After a year in Berlin he worked for two years in A. Fowler's laboratory at Imperial College, London supported by an 1851 Exhibition Senior Studentship. In 1934 he moved to Manchester University where he joined the physics department as Assistant Lecturer under W.L. Bragg, and was subsequently promoted Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader. In 1947 he left Manchester on his election to the Chair of Physics at Royal Holloway College, London where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1951 he exhibited quartz oscillators and other material in the Science Section of the Festival of Britain. He wrote, lectured and broadcast prolifically, held many consultancies with industrial firms and undertook much examining work at London University and many other universities in Britain and overseas. His research encompassed spectroscopy, multiple beam interferometry, studies on diamond and in his last years, 1968-1973, lunar dust and the Moon's surface. He was elected FRS in 1952.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Royal Holloway College London, Notebooks and working papers, Publications, Committee and advisory bodies, External examining, Conferences, demonstrations and exhibitions, Scientific correspondence, Publications correspondence, Lectures, broadcasts and television. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to the items in the collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the controlled environment and restrictions of the Palaeography Room.

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Samuel Tolansky (1907-1973) by J. Alton and H. Weiskittel, CSAC catalogue no. 24/1/75, 36 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Separated Material

Papers held in the College Archives, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey:

'This collection includes mainly his research papers from the 1960s on multiple-beam interferometry and diamond physics, plus a series of some general notes. There is little material concerning his early work on spectroscopy or later work on lunar dust. There is also a copy of a biographical article on Samuel Tolansky by R.W. Ditchburn and G.D. Rochester. This list expands on an earlier version (see PP22/10/1). There is no record of when the papers were deposited in the Archives'. Reference: PP/22. 6 archive boxes.

Custodial History

Received in 1973-1975 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from Mrs Ottilie Tolansky, widow and the Department of Physics, Royal Holloway College, London. Deposited in University of London Library in 1975.