[Sullivan, May 2006]
Sullivan, 2006. (Photo courtesy of Sullivan)

[Cover of Sullivan's 2009 book, Cosmic Noise]
Sullivan's Cosmic Noise, Cambridge University Press, 2009

[Sullivan and Miller Goss, Westerbork, 1973]
Sullivan and Miller Goss, Westerbork, 1973 (Photo courtesy of Sullivan)

[Cover of Sullivan's 1984 book, Early Years of Radio Astronomy]
Sullivan's Early Years of Radio Astronomy, Cambridge University Press, 1984

[Sullivan, 2000]
Sullivan, 2000 (Photo courtesy of Sullivan)

[Cover of Sullivan's book 1982, Classics in Radio Astronomy]
Sullivan's Classics in Radio Astronomy, Reidel, 1982

[Sullivan and University of Washington sundial]
Sullivan and University of Washington sundial, 2003 (Photo courtesy of Sullivan)

[Sullivan at Arecibo, 1977]
Sullivan at Arecibo, 1977. (Photo courtesy of Sullivan)


Finding Aid to the Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan, 1946-2009


Location of collection: National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Archives, 520 Edgemont Rd., Charlottesville, VA. Phone: 1-434-296-0203, email: archivist at nrao.edu

Title and dates of the collection: Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan, 1946-2009

Size of the collection: Currently 15 linear feet plus 188 tapes and corresponding digital files. Additional materials will be added.

Papers/Records created by: Sullivan, Woodruff T., III (1944- )

Short description of collection: Woodruff T. Sullivan IIIís book, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy, was published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press. Sullivan's book covers the history of radio astronomy from its beginning in 1933 through 1953, and represents 30 years of intensive research by him. In 2010 Sullivan donated to the NRAO Archives the 188 audio tapes and related paperwork for the extensive set of interviews he conducted between 1971 and 1988 with 255 radio astronomers around the world. In Appendix B to his book, Sullivan writes, "The goal of the interview project was to talk to everyone who had published at least one article in the field of radio astronomy before 1960.... I wanted to talk not just to the 'generals,' but also to the foot soldiers, the 'average' early radio astronomers.... Over the period 1971-88 (but mostly 1973-81) I interviewed a total of 255 persons."

This collection currently includes the original audiotapes, digitized versions of all tapes, as well as Sullivan's extensive files about the people interviewed and about radio astronomy institutions and programs. Additional materials, including those related to Sullivan's other publications, subject files, reprints, photographs, and other materials will be received and added at a later date.


Selected search terms:

  • Sullivan, Woodruff Turner, III, 1944- .
  • Radio astronomy - History


Biography: Woodruff Turner Sullivan III was born in 1944, received his B.S. in Physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966, and his Ph.D. in Astronomy with a minor in Physics from University of Maryland in 1971. Following a post-doctoral fellowship at Kapteyn Laboratory, Groningen University, The Netherlands, he joined the faculty of University of Washington in 1973, where he is now a Professor of Astronomy, an Adjunct Professor of History, and one of the leaders of the Astrobiology Program. He has held visiting positions at the Universities of Cambridge, Cornell, Groningen, and Paris

At the University of Washington, he has built and maintained an undergraduate Student Radio Telescope, developed the topic of "life in the cosmos" in the astronomy curriculum, developed and regularly taught "History of Physics and Astronomy, 1800-1940," and co-founded an innovative graduate program in Astrobiology in which six departments now participate.

Sullivan's astronomy research focused primarily on the interstellar medium of our Galaxy and the properties of other spiral galaxies. His work in the history of science has included the early development of radio astronomy, and his current long-term historical project is a biography of William Herschel. His contributions to many aspects of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) led him to astrobiology, the study of life on Earth in a cosmic context and the search for extraterrestrial life.

In astronomy-related fields, he has designed a dozen public sundials in the Puget Sound region, as well as the first extraterrestrial sundial, part of NASA's Rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. He was the first to produce an "Earth at Night" image showing the effects of humankindís activities at night on our planet, in particular urban light pollution.

He has published 90 scientific articles and five books:

  • Classics in Radio Astronomy (Reidel, 1982), a collection of 37 reprinted articles covering the period 1896-1954, compiled by Sullivan with extensive commentary
  • The Early Years of Radio Astronomy: Reflections Fifty Years After Jansky's Discovery (Cambridge University Press, 1984), a collection of 25 retrospective and historical articles covering the pre-1960 era, edited and contributed to by Sullivan
  • Preserving the Astronomical Sky (Astrononomical Society of the Pacific, 2001), co-editor with J. Cohen, International Astronomical Union Symposium 196
  • Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology (Cambridge University Press, 2007), co-editor with J. Baross, graduate-level textbook comprising 27 chapters by various authors
  • Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009), a detailed monograph on the worldwide development of all aspects of the field through 1953

Sullivan is a member of the International Astronomical Union, the International Scientific Radio Union, the American Astronomical Society, and the History of Science Society. He served on the NASA Science Working Group, and the NASA Investigators Working Group on Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. He has been President of the History Committee of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the American Astronomical Society Historical Astronomy Division, and International Astronomical Union Commission 50 (Light Pollution and Radio Interference).

In recognition of his research, writing, teaching, and leadership in the history of astronomy community, Sullivan received the 2012 LeRoy E. Doggett Prize from the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society. For a video of Sullivan's 2012 LeRoy E. Doggett Prize Lecture, "Cosmic Noise: The Pioneers of Early Radio Astronomy and Their Discoveries", given at the American Astronmical Society's 219th meeting in Austin TX, January 2012, click the link for lecture on the AAS meeting 219 video page.

[Biographical note written by Ellen Bouton, based on information provided by Sullivan.]


Accession history: The 188 audio tapes were donated to the NRAO Archives in August 2010, and related working files in May 2011 and October 2012. Additional materials, including materials related to Sullivan's other publications, subject files, photographs, other materials will be received at a later date.


Access to collection: No restrictions. The Archives are open part-time; contact the Archivist for appointment.


Restrictions on use of collection: None.


Publication rights: Copyright for his material has been assigned by Sullivan to The National Radio Astronomy Observatory. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Archivist. Note that much of the material in the Working Files is biographical or other material about interviewees gathered from a variety of sources, including other institutions and archives, for which neither Sullivan nor the NRAO Archives holds publication rights.

Use policy for interviews: Sullivan has signed a release as interviewer. We have made extensive efforts to obtain release forms from interviewees or their heirs/next of kin allowing us to open the interviews to researchers and to post them on the Web. In cases where we have been unable to find anyone to give permission, we have allowed access to the interview and posted the transcript with the goal of providing access to the material. For interviews without releases we are unable to grant permission to cite or publish. We would be grateful to anyone who is able to provide contact information allowing us to obtain release forms for the interviewees or their heirs/next of kin listed on this page.


Preferred citation: For material from interviews: Sullivan interview of [person, date], Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III. Archives, National Radio Astronomy Observatory / Associated Universities, Inc. For materials other than interviews: [Identification of item, box, and file], Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III. Archives, National Radio Astronomy Observatory / Associated Universities, Inc. After the initial citation, abbreviations may be used: W.T. Sullivan III Papers, NRAO Archives, NRAO/AUI.


Processing notes: Initial inventory of the tapes was done in 2010 by Ellen N. Bouton. Digitization of the 188 audio tapes, including 255 interviews of 20th century radio astronomers, as well as audio tapes of lectures and meetings, was done by Sierra Smith in summer 2011; digitization was funded by the Herbert C. Pollack Award received by Ellen Bouton from the Dudley Observatory, with additional funding from NRAO. Sullivan numbered his tapes sequentially through 173; during the digitization process additional unnumbered tapes of meetings and lectures were assigned sequential numbers 174-188. Transcription of 55 interviews with 44 radio astronomers was done by Sierra Smith in 2012, and a grant from the American Institute of Physics, Center for the History of Physics funded Web publication of those interviews between November 2012 and April 2013.

Arrangement, description, indexing, foldering and boxing of paper material was begun in summer 2011; all material received to date has been processed. During the processing, photocopies were made to replace thermofax sheets and newspaper clippings, fasteners were removed, and materials were removed from binders of various types.


Scope and Contents of Collection

Tapes and Transcripts Series: This series contains the 188 audio tapes, made by Sullivan during 30 years of research for his book, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009). The tapes, all of which have been digitized, include interviews with 255 radio astronomers, as well as recordings of 16 conferences or individual lectures. The interviews were conducted between 1971 and 1988, and the conferences were held between 1960 and 1988. In addition, there is a recording of a 1946 Mutual Broadcasting System radio broadcast about Project Diana. Sullivan's notes include a brief summary of each interview. This series also includes digitized transcripts of some interviews, many of which are available on the Web. One box contains Sullivan's interview summary sheets, a chronological tape log, and general notes on transcripts and interviews. Size: 0.5 linear feet plus 188 audio tapes, corresponding digital files.

  • Click here for a listing of interviewees with links to more detailed information.
  • Click here for a listing of transcripts available on the Web.
  • Click here for a listing of audio clips from online transcripts.
  • Click here for a listing of conferences and lectures, including the Project Diana broadcast.


Working Files Series:

  • Interviewee Unit: This unit contains the files of information on interviewees and gathered by Sullivan in preparation for and during the process of conducting the interviews (see Tapes Series above). Generally there is one file for each person interviewed, with additional files for a small number of people who were not interviewed, including Joseph L. Pawsey and extensive information on Karl G. Jansky. Material in the files includes one or more of the following: a "publications card" (a 5x7inch card used during the interviews on which Sullivan listed the person's publications), transcript(s) of interview(s) and associated notes, correspondence with Sullivan, archival material from various sources found by Sullivan or received from the person, biographical material, and photos. N.B.: Information about files on specific individuals is included in the pages linked from the interviewee listing above. Size: 10.75 linear feet

  • Institutional Unit: Institutional files are primarily photocopies gathered by Sullivan at various archives during his research on history of radio astronomy. Size: 2.0 linear feet. The collection includes institutional files for:

    • The Netherlands, including material on Stichting Radiostraling von Zon en Melweg, on Dutch telescopes, copies of the 21 cm Newsletter, and additional material on Jan Oort and Hendrik Van de Hulst. Included here are VHS and DVD copies of a film (in Dutch) called Bouw van een radiotelescoop, made in ~1957 by Herman Kleibrink, about the building the Dwingeloo 25 meter telescope. Researchers should also refer to the interviewee files for Oort and Van de Hulst.
    • Soviet Union, including detailed notes made of interviews with Soviet astronomers during Sullivan's late 1980 trip to the U.S.S.R. (no recordings were made of the interviews), listings of Soviet astronomers, photographs, and copies of articles on Soviet astronomers and astronomical institutions.
    • CSIRO Radiophysics Laboratory.
    • Associated Universities Inc. Advisory Committee on Radio Astronomy materials gathered by Edward F. McClain during his tenure on the Committee in 1956-1959. These files were given to Sullivan by Cornell H. Mayer and Steven Knowles.
    • Sullivan filed Jodrell Bank institutional material with material on A.C. Bernard Lovell, and that arrangement has been retained.

  • Sullivan Correspondence Unit: Whenever possible, Sullivan filed correspondence with or releated to an interviewee in the inverviewee folder. This unit includes general correspondence about secondary materials, correspondence with various archives, and correspondence about radio astronomy history, but also includes some correspondence with colleagues about interviewees. Researchers should look for information about interviewees in both this unit and in in the interviewee files. Size: 0.25 linear feet.

  • Miscellaneous Background Materials Unit: This unit includes general background materials on radio astronomy history such as a listing of pre-1961 radio astronomy PhDs, clippings from Observatory, Proceedings of the Royal Astronomical Sociery, The New York Times, and The London Times, and IAU and URSI material. Size: 0.5 linear feet.


Cosmic Noise Series: This series includes notes and correspondence specifically related to the writing of Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Currently it includes one 8.25"x12" box of 8"x5" cards of chapter notes for the book.


Lectures Series: This series includes original copies, drafts, transcripts, notes, announcements, newspaper clippings, correspondence, brochures, photos, and transparencies of talks and lectures on radio astronomy history given by Sullivan from 1983 through 2010. Size: 0.25 linear feet.


Books Series: This series includes books used by Sullivan in his research or given to Sullivan by interviewees; publication dates currently 1955-1960. Current size: 0.5 linear feet.


Additional Information Related to Sullivan Interviewees: These materials are primarily obituaries of interviewees which were not collected by Sullivan but were gathered by the NRAO Archives after Sullivan donated his papers to the Archives. Size: 0.25 linear feet.


Additional Materials: Sullivan plans to donate additional materials to the NRAO Archives. Expected materials include books (including bibliographies), indexes, subject files, photographs (including telescopes, receivers, scientific illustrations, and formal and informal photos of people), and material related to the writing of and editorial process for his books. These materials will be processed and added to the finding aid when received.


Modified on Wednesday, 31-Jan-2018 17:01:17 EST by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)