Sidebar: Files of Albert Baez Now Archived at Stanford

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October 11, 2011

This summer, nine boxes of Albert Baez’s personal files on his X-ray and science-education activities were donated to the Stanford University Archives, due in part to my writing today’s SLAC news article on Kirkpatrick-Baez mirrors.

When I came to SLAC in April as a casual employee to help during a staff transition in the communications department, my first assigned story was to describe the activities at the Linac Coherent Light Source during its two-month shutdown. One task was the installation of a super-accurate K-B mirror system in the Coherent X-Ray Imaging instrument. Someone told me Kirkpatrick and Baez had designed that type of mirror at Stanford back in the 1940s.

My mother is an oral historian, and I’m always interested in knowing the history of whatever I write about. After a little research, I proposed writing another SLAC news story at a later point about the development of K-B mirrors, from their invention at Stanford to their importance to X-ray research that is burgeoning here and around the world. 

Out of the blue, I recalled that I’d actually met Baez in the mid 1990s, when I was a science writer at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose. IBM physicist George Castro was collaborating with Baez, and Castro had brought Baez to my office. I thought it was mighty interesting that Joan Baez’s father was a noted X-ray physicist, but the collaboration itself was not newsworthy. So our pleasant introduction back then stopped there.

That is, until I returned to Almaden in early June for IBM's centennial celebration. After the formal event, I happened to see Castro, who had since served as a dean at San Jose State University and retired. I excitedly told him of my upcoming K-B mirror story and how delighted I was that he had introduced me to Baez so many years earlier.

“Funny you should mention Baez,” Castro replied. “I happen to have nine boxes of his X-ray research files and papers that his nephew gave me after Dr. Baez died in 2007, and I don’t know what to do with them. Can you help me find a suitable place for them?”

The next day I contacted SLAC archivist Jean Deken, and she recommended that I contact the Stanford archives. Some 22 manuscript boxes of Baez’s later correspondence, related to environmental policy, already resided at the Hoover Institution. But Deken and I both thought Stanford was a better repository for his scientific materials. After exchanging a few notes, University Archivist Daniel Hartwig told us, “I'd be happy to receive the material.” 

I helped Castro inventory the boxes and borrowed a few items to read for my SLAC news article. One of my favorites is a notebook entry dated June 25, 1947, that says, “Began thinking about elliptical reflection,” foreshadowing the mirror shape used by nearly all K-B mirrors today. Castro reveled in seeing some of the world’s first X-ray zone plates, which Baez pioneered in 1961 and had placed into a few file folders. Castro even bought new archival storage boxes to replace the files’ old, worn cardboard containers.

Shortly after lunch on July 7, Castro backed his pickup truck up to the loading dock of Stanford's Green Library and transferred the boxes onto a cart wheeled out by Hartwig. Baez’s X-ray files had found a permanent home.