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Finding Aid to the Papers of Morton S. Roberts, 1945-2010

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See also the Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III, which include a 40 minute oral interview with Roberts conducted in 1972.


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 Morton S. Roberts, 1945-2010

Size of the collection: 7.5 linear feet.

Papers/Records created by: Roberts, Morton S. (1926-2024)

Short description of collection: Morton S. Roberts (1926- ) was a scientist at National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) from 1964-1978, served as Director of NRAO from 1978-1984, and was Senior Scientist at NRAO until his retirement in 2002, when he became an Emeritus Senior Scientist. These papers are primarily related to his personal research and related correspondence and to his participation in professional organizations and on committees.

The papers of Dr. Roberts in his capacity as NRAO Director are included with Director's Office materials in the NRAO institutional records in the Archives.


Selected search terms:

  • Roberts, Morton S. (1926- )
  • National Radio Astronomy Observatory (U.S.)


Biography: Morton S. Roberts was born in New York City in 1926, received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pomona College in 1948, his Master of Science degree from California Institute of Technology in 1950, and his Doctor of Philosophy degree from University of California, Berkeley, in 1958. After receiving his doctorate, he was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and then a lecturer in Astronomy at University of California, Berkeley, before going to Harvard as a Lecturer and Research Associate in 1960. In 1964 he joined the staff at National Radio Astronomy Observatory, served as Assistant Director for Green Bank Operations in 1969-1970, and was NRAO Director from 1 October 1978 through 30 September 1984. After stepping down as Director, he continued as NRAO Senior Scientist, and became Emeritus Senior Scientist upon his retirement in 2002.

His research has encompassed both optical and radio astronomy. He is an authority on the study of neutral hydrogen in galaxies. Among the highlights of his research are the first measurement of extragalactic HI absorption in radio galaxies; the first high-redshift hydrogen detections, with a resultant determination of the remarkable constancy of several fundamental constants of physics over a look-back time of one third the age of the Universe; and the first clear enunciation that many, if not most, galaxies have flat rotation curves, providing the then most definitive observational evidence for dark matter in galaxies.

Roberts was a Co-Investigator for the ASTRO Imaging Experiment on the Columbia and Endeavor shuttles.

Over his long career he served as American Astronomical Society (AAS) Vice President, Councilor, and on many AAS committees and boards. He was a Vice President of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), during his time on the IAU Executive Committee he served twice as Treasurer, and he was on numerous IAU committees and commissions. He was on visiting, advisory, or assessment committees for Arecibo Observatory, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Space Telescope Science Institute, Johns Hopkins University Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, and Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). He served on editorial boards or as editor for Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Astronomical Journal, and Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Roberts was a member of the AAS, the IAU, and the International Scientific Radio Union (URSI). He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Roberts died in January 2024.

[Biographical note written by Ellen N. Bouton with the assistance of Kenneth I.Kellermann and David E. Hogg.]


Accession history: Material was received from Dr. Roberts in several installments over the period 2009-2015.


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 has been assigned to the NRAO/AUI Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Archivist.


Preferred citation: National Radio Astronomy Observatory/Associated Universities, Inc. Archives, Papers of Morton S. Roberts, <series/unit/subunit/box #>. After the initial citation, abbreviations may be used: NRAO/AUI Archives, Roberts Papers, <series/unit/subunit/box #>.


Processing notes: Material was received from Dr. Roberts in several installments over the period 2009-2015. Initial inventory of the collection was done in 2015 by Megan Moore. Arrangement, description, indexing, foldering and boxing of this material was done in 2017-2018 by Ellen N. Bouton. During processing, photocopies were made to replace thermofax sheets and newspaper clippings, fasteners were removed, and materials were removed from binders of various types. Duplicates were discarded.


Scope and Contents of Collection

Note on related materials: See also the Director's Office Series in the Records of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory for materials from Roberts' tenure as NRAO Director, October 1978-September 1984.

Correspondence Series: Roberts had two sequences of correspondence, one chronological, the other alphabetical by person/topic. That arrangement has been retained, with the chronological correspondence preceding the alphabetical. Chronological correspondence covers 1955-2009; correspondence for some years is minimal, and there is no chronological correspondence for 1979. Alphabetical files include correspondence and other materials dated 1947-2010. Note that correspondence is also included in the Subject File Series below. Size: 4.5 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders.


Councils and Committees Series

  • International Astronomical Union Unit: This unit contains materials from Roberts' service on the IAU committees and commissions. IAU Executive Committee material is dated 1987-1994; IAU Commission 38 material is dated 1999-2000; material from the US National Committee (USNC) of the IAU is dated 1984-2007. Size: 1.0 linear feet.
  • Committees Unit: This unit contains materials from Roberts' work on committees for various non-NRAO departments and institutions. Material is dated 1978-2001. Size: 0.5 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders.


Subject Files Series: This unit includes correspondence and other material dated 1947-2008 that were filed topically by Roberts. Original folder titles have been retained. Size: 1.5 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders.


Publications Series

For a full bibliographic listing of Roberts publications, click here.


Miscellany Series

This series currently contains a small number of articles relating to radio astronomy clipped from The New York Times.