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Serge A. Korff Papers

Call Number



1928-1989, inclusive


Korff, Serge A. (Serge Alexander), 1906-1989
New York University. Department of Physics


10.0 Linear Feet in 10 boxes

Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English.


Serge A. Korff was a prominent cosmic ray physicist active in academic, governmental and international settings whose tenure at NYU was from 1941-1989. The collection encompasses Korff's professional career and includes correspondence with leading American, South American and European physicists, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, academicians from other disciplines, professional scientific organizations, government agencies, military personnel, commercial equipment suppliers, and publishing concerns. Also included in the collection is information on research projects and expeditions; grant proposals and reports; materials on scientific conferences; students' theses and dissertations; administrative records pertaining to NYU and its physics department; and reprints of scholarly articles by Korff and others.

Biographical Note:

Sergei Alexander Korff was born in Helsingfors, Finland, in 1906. Immigrating to the United States with his family in 1917, he became a citizen in 1927. Korff attended Princeton receiving his A.B. in 1928, M.A. in 1929 and Ph.D. in 1931. Between 1932 and 1940, he completed research fellowships at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, the California Institute of Technology, the Carnegie Institute of Washington, and the Bartol Research Foundation. Collaborating with eminent physicists in his early work, Korff investigated topics such as optical dispersion, proportional counters and neutron measurements in cosmic radiation. Korff began his tenure at New York University in 1941, and continued there until his death in 1989. He helped train at least three generations of students, taking many on research expeditions as far away as the North Pole and the South Seas.

In addition to his teaching and research, Korff lent his efforts to the international scientific community. He compiled the report of the Joint Commission on High Altitude Research for ICSU-UNESCO; served on the Cosmic Ray Technical Panel for the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58; organized the pole-to-pole Rockwell Scientific Round-the-World Flight in 1965; and encouraged and secured support for scientific work around the world, particularly in Central and South America. Notable among his numerous professional affiliations were his terms as president of the Explorer's Club (1955-1958); the American Geographical Society (1966-1971); and New York Academy of Science (1972). For his efforts to transfer surplus scientific equipment to the decimated laboratories of France after World War II, in 1952 Korff was decorated Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. For the contribution of his radiation detection devices to the study of cancer, he was awarded the Curie Medal of the International Union Against Cancer.

Korff's Counter Project and Cosmic Ray Project attracted numerous students to NYU; many later achieved prominence as physicists. The project also brought the university substantial funding from government agencies, such as the National Air and Space Agency and the National Science Foundation. Author of over 150 scientific papers and books, as well as a number of works on exploration, geology and stamps, Korff's contributions to science went beyond the study of cosmic rays. His ability to render complex scientific issues exciting and clear to the general public in encyclopedia and newspaper articles, and to expose the subtleties of science to his students and peers, marked Korff as an outstanding figure in 20th century physics.


Organized alphabetically by correspondent, and (less frequently) by topic. Personal and professional correspondence is filed by name of correspondent, and institutional correspondents by organization. Recommendations and obituaries are filed under the name of the individual discussed. Some files in this series include drafts and reprints of brief articles by Korff (for example, encyclopedia articles have been filed under the name of the publisher); others contain drafts by colleagues which Korff informally reviewed. Certain materials have been assigned topical folder titles, such as "Mailing lists and addresses" and "Invitations."

Organized in six series:

I. Correspondence

II. Notes, drafts and photographs

III. Research projects

IV. Organizations and conferences

V. Academia

VI. Published materials.

Scope and Contents

The collection reflects the work and perspective of a scientist whose life work was devoted to understanding the universe and sharing that knowledge with as wide an audience as possible. The Korff Collection documents the work of a prominent cosmic ray physicist active in academic, governmental and international settings. The collection contains 10 linear feet of correspondence, notes, photographs, manuscripts, and printed material documenting research grants, academic activities, professional organizations, conferences, and publications. Korff's work from 1928 to 1989 is reflected; the bulk of the material representing the period 1950-1980. There is a largely undocumented area in this collection: the first is Korff's work prior to his affiliation with NYU, while the second coincides with World War II.

Correspondents include leading American, South American and European physicists, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, academicians from other disciplines, professional scientific organizations, government agencies, military personnel, and publishing concerns. Significant physicists represented include Manuel Sandoval Vallarta, Robert A. Millikan, Willard F. Libby, and Gabriel Alvial. Korff's notes and drafts detail research methods and prose style, lectures and presentations, revisions of his own and other's publications, and a wealth of experimental data, particularly photographs of eclipses and other astronomical events and field notes from high altitude experiments. The collection documents research projects and expeditions; grant proposals, reports and correspondence; scientific conferences; students' work; administrative records of NYU and its physics department; and reprints of scholarly articles by Korff and others.

The Korff Collection provides critical insight into the field of physics, and science in general, in the 20th century. Significant topics represented include the study of cosmic rays, neutrons and optical dispersion; the theory, development and uses of devices for measuring radiation; radio-carbon dating; physics research and its social and political context around the world; international scientific cooperation, particularly the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58; observations of eclipses and astronomical events; high altitude balloon flights; and government and military funding of scientific research. File titles marked with an asterisk in the Folder Listings contain interesting images or significant documents. A folder of biographical information on Korff precedes Series I.

Conditions Governing Access

Administrative records and unpublished reports of New York University are closed for a period of 20 years from the date of their creation. Access to files spanning multiple years will be opened to researchers based on the date of the most recent materials. Board of Trustees records are closed for 35 years from the date of creation. Materials related to personnel, grievances, job and fellowship searches and applications, and all files that fall under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are permanently restricted. Additional restrictions may apply to other materials in this collection. For questions regarding specific restrictions, please contact the University Archives.

Conditions Governing Use

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by Serge A. Korff are maintained by New York University. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from New York University Archives. Please contact

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Serge A. Korff Papers; MC 110; box number; folder number; New York University Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was transferred to the University Archives by Rosalind Mendell of the NYU Physics department. The accession number associated with this collection is 90.057.

Collection processed by

Susan Aprill

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-09-12 09:30:27 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

Decisions regarding arrangement, description, and physical interventions for this collection prior to 2018 are unknown. In 2019 framed certificates, framed photographs, and pennants were rehoused by Preservation and sent to offsite storage.

Revisions to this Guide

July 2017: Six folders from Box 1 rehoused in Box 9 by Allison Chomet
June 2019: Updated by Jennifer E. Neal to incorporate materials being sent to offsite storage in 2019

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Korff.xml


New York University Archives
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