- Collection Overview
- Collection Description & Creator Information
- Access & Use
- Collection History
- Find Related Materials
- Wilkinson, David T.
- David Wilkinson Papers
- Manuscripts Division
- Permanent URL:
- 1957-2002 (mostly 1961-2001)
- 16 boxes
- Storage Note:
- ReCAP (scarcpxm): Box 1-16
The David Wilkinson Papers consists of the scientific writings, professional correspondence, and subject and project files of David T. Wilkinson (1935-2002), the renowned experimental physicist and cosmologist who taught and conducted research in the Department of Physics at Princeton University from 1963 until his retirement in 2002. Wilkinson was a pioneer in the study and analysis of cosmic microwave background radiation, the nature and existence of which have yielded, through his lifetime's work, solid evidence for the Big Bang theory of the universe's birth. This collection contains the administrative (including his NASA and/or National Science Foundation funding and accounting paperwork) and background history of two of Wilkinson's main projects -- the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) and Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) -- as well as evidence of the many and varied academic activities in his career.
Collection Description & Creator Information
- Scope and Contents
Consists primarily of the scientific writings, professional correspondence, and subject and project files of David T. Wilkinson (1935-2002), the renowned experimental physicist and cosmologist who taught and conducted research in the Department of Physics at Princeton University from 1963 until his retirement in 2002. Wilkinson was a pioneer in the study and analysis of cosmic microwave background radiation, the nature and existence of which have yielded, through his lifetime's work, solid evidence for the Big Bang theory of the universe's birth. The collection contains the administrative (including his NASA and/or National Science Foundation funding and accounting paperwork) and background history of two of Wilkinson's main projects -- the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) and Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) -- as well as evidence of the many and varied academic activities in his career.
- Collection Creator Biography:
Wilkinson, David T.
David Todd Wilkinson was born on May 13, 1935, in Hillsdale, Michigan. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics from the University of Michigan. In 1963, he became an instructor in the Department of Physics at Princeton University, where he would spend his entire academic career. He was appointed assistant professor at Princeton in 1965, received tenure in 1968, and served as department chairman from 1987 to 1990. He retired from Princeton in 2002 as the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics Emeritus.
Wilkinson was a pioneer in the field of cosmic microwave background radiation research, in which scientists, starting in the mid-1960s, began attempting to measure and analyze the faint energy, in the form of radio microwaves, postulated to have resulted from the "Big Bang" birth of the universe. Wilkinson and his colleagues were able to confirm the existence of this energy -- first, by building a radiometer and listening from atop Princeton's Guyot Hall in 1965; next, by flying balloons in cool, dry, and high locations in West Virginia, California, Hawaii, and Saskatoon, Canada; and, later, by helping to design instruments for satellites to be launched into outer space. The first of these space projects was the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, of which Wilkinson was a principle founder, in 1975, and participant. It was launched in 1989 and the resulting data confirmed minute variations in temperature, or anisotropy, in the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1992. In 1996, Wilkinson was named the Instrument Scientist on the follow-up project to COBE, the Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP), a collaboration between Princeton and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to produce an even more detailed "snapshot" of the structure and composition of the early universe. Wilkinson, referred to by his colleagues as the "father of MAP," was present at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 30, 2001, when the MAP satellite was launched.
Wilkinson was also a driving force behind Princeton's Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (OSETI) project, which began in 1999 with the refurbishing of Fitz-Randolph Observatory and its 36-inch reflecting telescope. It brought together Princeton scientists, amateur astronomers, and volunteers from the local community to look for pulses of laser light from stars in conjunction with a team at Harvard University.
Wilkinson was an enthusiastic teacher and mentor of undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students, many of whom continue the work he started in the field of experimental cosmology. In 1996, he was rewarded for his undergraduate teaching with the Princeton President's Award for Distinguished Teaching. He received an honorary degree from the University of Chicago and the National Academy of Science's James Craig Watson Medal for lifetime achievements. Wilkinson died on September 5, 2002, after a prolonged battle with lymphatic cancer. On February 11, 2003, NASA held a highly-publicized press conference that released the most detailed map to date of the early, post-Big Bang universe, based on analyses of the first year's worth of data from the MAP satellite, which was renamed the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) in his honor.
Eunice H. Wilkinson donated the papers of her late husband, David Wilkinson, to the Princeton University Library in March 2003 . The papers were selected during a review of his office in Jadwin Hall in February 2003 .
No appraisal information is available.
- Processing Information
This collection was processed by Sylvia Yu in 2003. Finding aid written by Sylvia Yu in 2003.
Access & Use
- Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research use.
- Conditions Governing Use
Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.
- Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.
- Credit this material:
David Wilkinson Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library
- Permanent URL:
- Firestone LibraryOne Washington RoadPrinceton, NJ 08544, USA
- Storage Note:
- ReCAP (scarcpxm): Box 1-16
- Subject Terms:
- Astronomical observatories -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- 20th century.
Cosmic background radiation.
Cosmology -- Big bang theory.
Physicists -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- 20th century.
Physics -- Research -- United States -- 20th century.
Physics -- Study and teaching -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- 20th century.
- Genre Terms:
- Cosmic Background Explorer (Satellite)
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Microwave Anisotropy Probe (Spacecraft)
National Science Foundation (U.S.)
Princeton University. Dept. of Physics.