Skip to main content

Papers of Sir Edward Victor Appleton

 Fonds — Box: MS.2300
Identifier: Coll-37

Scope and Contents

The papers, which are substantial, deal almost exclusively with Appleton's scientific work. There is little personal or private correspondence and almost no surviving material, apart from lectures, speeches and addresses, relating to his public life as scientific administrator or university principal. There are, however, a good run of diaries and engagement books and extensive folders of notes, research ideas, manuscript calculations and data from all periods of Appleton's career, as well as much additional data contributed by assistants or from observatories. The correspondence includes an extended exchange of letters with B. van der Pol, 1921-1924, on oscillations and non-linearity, and long and frequent exchanges with long-term friends and collaborators such as W.J.G. Beynon, R. Naismith and W.R. Piggott. Appleton's collection of reprints, preprints and limited circulation reports also includes some important items.


  • Creation: c 1918-1973


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Data Protection restrictions apply.

Biographical / Historical

Appleton was born in Bradford and educated at local schools and St John's College, Cambridge where he was awarded first class honours and several prizes in both parts of the Natural Sciences Tripos (1913, 1914). He began research at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge with W.L. Bragg, but during his service in the Army Signals in the First World War he developed the interest in valves and 'wireless' signals which informed his subsequent research career. He returned to the Cavendish Laboratory in 1919, continuing to work on valves and, with B. van der Pol, on non-linearity, and on atmospherics. In 1924, in collaboration with M.F. Barnett, he performed a crucial experiment which enabled a reflecting layer in the atmosphere to be identified and measured; subsequent research indicated the existence of more than one reflecting layer. From 1924 to 1936 Appleton was Wheatstone Professor of Physics at King's College, London, directing research teams and, in 1932, heading an expedition to Tromsö in northern Norway as part of the programme of observations scheduled for the Second International Polar Year.

He was President of the International Union of Scientific Radio (URSI), 1934-1952. In 1936 he succeeded C.T.R. Wilson in the Jacksonian Chair of Natural Philosophy at Cambridge, where he continued collaborative research on many ionospheric problems, including solar and lunar tides in the E-layer. From September 1936 he served on the re-constituted Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence (the 'Tizard Committee'), and in October 1938 was appointed successor to Sir Frank Smith as Secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). He remained at the DSIR throughout the Second World War and until 1948 when he was appointed Principal of Edinburgh University. He took up the appointment in May 1949 and remained in office until his death in 1965. Appleton was elected FRS in 1927 (Bakerian Lecture 1937, Hughes Medal 1933, Royal Medal 1950) and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1947 for his investigations into the ionosphere. He was knighted in 1941.


100 boxes


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Scientific notebooks, Research topics, Lectures and publications, Correspondence, Charts, graphs and data, Reports and printed matter, Non-print material. Index of correspondents.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Edward Appleton, G.B.E., K.C.B., F.R.S. (1892-1965) by Jeannine Alton and Julia Latham-Jackson, CSAC catalogue no. 82/6/81, 172 pp (Edinburgh 'Handlist H37'). Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1977-1978 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from Lady Appleton, widow.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Deposited in Edinburgh University Library in 1981.

Related Materials

The Institution of Electrical Engineers, London houses a film in which Appleton describes his ionospheric research, made for the Institution by British Movietone Ltd in 1962, and a typescript text of the film.

Lady Appleton retained copies of Appleton's speeches and writings to be left to Edinburgh University Library on her death. Appleton's correspondence with J.A. Ratcliffe, 1925-1936, formed an earlier deposit in Edinburgh University Library.

Processing Information

Papers catalogued in 1982 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre. Catalogue keyed into ArchivesSpace by Stephen Willis in 2021-2023, with permission from the University of Bath, current copyright owners of the report.

Papers of Sir Edward Victor Appleton
Aline Brodin, Stephen Willis
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • retroconverted by Stephen Willis in 2023; published by Aline Brodin in April 2024: April 2024

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379