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Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AC-0152

Scope and Contents

Records received in 1985, boxes 1-8, 1957-1982, contain correspondence, minutes of meetings, and proposals documenting the design and construction of the MIT National Magnet Laboratory (NML), 1957-1963; correspondence, minutes of meetings, research plans, and core proposals to the United States Air Force's Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation documenting the administration of the NML, 1960-1967, and the MIT Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory (FBNML), 1967-1982; research plans, bound volumes of NML/FBNML publications, and research grants and contracts documenting the research activities of the laboratory's resident and visiting scientists, 1960-1982.

Records received in 1993, boxes 9-13, 1961-1987, include proposals, reports, and correspondence which document research done by resident and visiting scientists in areas such as the magnetic separation of water, the use of x-ray lasers, and a thermonuclear fusion experiment called Alcator, conducted for the study of high temperature plasmas in strong magnetic fields.


  • circa 1957-1990


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Conditions Governing Use

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Historical Note

The Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory (FBNML) grew out of a mid-1950s collaborative research effort between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory's Solid State Division's high field research program, directed by Benjamin Lax, and MIT's Magnet Laboratory, directed by Francis Bitter.

The FBNML is a high-field magnetic research laboratory operated and staffed by MIT. The laboratory was established in 1960, with support from the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), by Benjamin Lax, head of the Solid State Division of MIT's Lincoln Laboratory.

The FBNML is mandated to conduct research into the nature of magnetism and its relationship with matter and energy, to advance the state of high-field magnet research and technology, and to serve as a national high-field magnetic research facility. The laboratory consists of approximately two dozen high-field magnets of varying design and strength. As a national laboratory, the FBNML is funded, through its core proposals, by the National Science Foundation (NSF). While MIT operates the laboratory, its magnet facilities are available to qualified researchers throughout the world. The core grants from the NSF that support the FBNML include funds for the laboratory's visiting scientist program which provides scientists with access to the magnet facilities.

The initial administrative staff of the National Magnet Laboratory consisted of Benjamin Lax, director; Donald T. Stevenson, assistant director; James M. West, assistant director for administration; and Francis Bitter, head of the planning and scientific advisory committees.

The National Magnet Laboratory (NML) was formally dedicated in April 1963 and became operational in October. In 1967 the NML was rededicated as the MIT Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory in honor of Francis Bitter, who had died in July. Bitter, an MIT faculty member for 33 years, was active in high-field magnetism research. In the 1930s Bitter founded the MIT Magnet Laboratory.

In 1970 the FBNML, in conjunction with the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, embarked on the design and construction of a fusion reactor. The project, sponsored by the United States Atomic Energy Commission, produced the Alcator A thermonuclear machine which became operational in 1973. Five years later a larger, more powerful machine, Alcator C, became operational. These two machines were part of the United States effort to develop thermonuclear energy capabilities. Alcator A and C projects continued at the FBNML through 1980, when the machines were transferred to the MIT Plasma Fusion Center.

In 1975 the FBNML's Magnet Research and Development Group began the evaluation, design, construction, and testing of large superconducting magnets for magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) generators. This program, funded by the Fossil Fuels/MHD Division of the United States Energy Research and Development Administration, lasted until 1982.

The directors of the FBNML include Benjamin Lax, 1960-1981; Peter A. Wolff, 1981-1988; J. David Litster, 1988-1991; and Robert G. Griffin, 1991-present (as of 1995).


18 Cubic Feet (16 record cartons, 6 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials


Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Processing Information note

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.

Preliminary Inventory to the Records of the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory
Preliminary Inventory
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 July 9: Edited by Lana Mason to remove aggrandizing terms in the historical note description.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

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