This is the first of a series of posts on the Jisc-Wiley history of science digital archive by our colleague Simon Bell of Wiley. It is notable that this resource is free to Jisc members in the UK.
Wiley Digital Archives Goes Radioactive
As part of the development of the major Jisc-Wiley history of science digital archive, we are digitising the papers of Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916), the Scottish chemist awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1904. These materials are held at University College London.
Ramsay identified argon, helium, krypton, neon, and xenon leading to a new section of the periodic table (the noble gases). His papers include volumes of correspondence, original laboratory notebooks, working articles, lectures, and publications, all included in this one-million-page collection.
The process began with a paper conservator assessing the physical condition of every page and image and ensuring they are safe for the scanners. The conservator will make any necessary repairs at the workbench to stabilise content for digitisation. However, four of Ramsay’s notebooks were found to be Contaminated with Radium (Ra-226); these needed special treatment and could not leave UCL. A risk assessment was carried out on Wiley’s behalf by UCL’s Special Collections Team, leading to a project to digitise the contaminated notebooks. A camera was positioned above the papers at a safe height, with someone taking the photos remotely. Another, masked and gloved, manually turned the pages at arm’s length. The process was slower than usual as each session had a one-hour time limit to minimise exposure to radioactivity.
Digital surrogates of the notebooks were available to researchers for the very first in December 2021 as part of the WDA collection: British Association for the Advancement of Science (Collections on the History of Science 1830-1970).