Papers and correspondence of Sir Rex Edward Richards, b 1922

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers provide good documentation of Richards's research and lectures on NMR and an extensive scientific correspondence. The research material includes early work with H.W. Thompson on penicillin and the lectures material includes notes of lectures on nuclear magnetism given by E.M. Purcell at Harvard, 1954-1955. Documentation of Richards's publications is slight, with the exception of the second (1964) edition of Numerical problems in advanced physical chemistry prepared with J.H. Wolfenden and E.E. Richards. A number of societies and organisations are well represented in the papers, in particular the Royal Society. There are comprehensive records of Richards's chairmanship of its Hooke Committee, which is responsible for organising Royal Society discussion meetings and review lectures. Richards's correspondence files relate to his undergraduate chemistry students at Lincoln College, those who researched in various capacities in his laboratory and manufacturers of NMR equipment. The records of the Oxford Enzyme Group form a separate group of papers deposited in the Bodleian Library.

Administrative / Biographical History

Richards was born in Colyton, Devon and educated at the local grammar school and St John's College, Oxford. Graduating with first class honours in 1945, he undertook research on infrared spectroscopy with H.W. Thompson, obtaining his D.Phil. in 1948. In 1947 he was elected Fellow and Tutor in Chemistry at Lincoln College, Oxford and in 1964 he succeeded Sir Cyril Hinshelwood as Dr Lee's Professor of Chemistry at Oxford. He became Warden of Merton College, Oxford in 1969, when he transferred his research to the Department of Biochemistry, and served as Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, 1977-1981. In 1984 Richards became Director of the Leverhulme Trust. Since 1982 he has been Chancellor of Exeter University.

Richards's research focused on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). He has been at the forefront of the application of NMR techniques to chemical problems and a leader in the design and development of NMR equipment. In the 1960s he became interested in biological applications of NMR, a change facilitated by the move to the Biochemistry Department and the development of new NMR instruments using superconducting magnets. In 1969 Richards and colleagues from eight science departments formed the Oxford Enzyme Group, a consortium of researchers who agreed to contribute a significant part of their research effort to a collaborative venture. He was chairman of the Enzyme Group from its inception to 1984. Richards was elected FRS in 1959 (Davy Medal 1976, Royal Medal 1986) and knighted in 1977.


By section as follows: Notebooks, Research, Lectures and publications, Oxford, Societies and organisations, Visits and conferences, Correspondence, Biographical. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Entry permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card or an Oxford University Card displaying the Bodleian logo. All applicants for new or replacement cards must apply in person, with a recommendation and payment if required, and with proof of their identity.

Some items not available for 30 or 50 years from date of writing.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Rex Edward Richards (1928-1988) by P. Harper and T.E. Powell, NCUACS catalogue no. 12/5/89, 128 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Separated Material

Nuclear magnetic resonance equipment, and related notebooks are held by the Science Museum, London.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1987-1988 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists from Richards. Placed in the Bodleian Library (gift) in 1989.