Oliver Smithies, professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, started the notebooks when he was an undergraduate and kept them throughout his life as he continued his research, which would eventually lead to him winning The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007.
“These books have all been scanned electronically, so there’s a record of them, and that record the University of North Carolina has put online with the thought that maybe people would enjoy to see what it’s been like to have a lifetime of science starting from a young age and to my current age, which is 91,” Smithies said.
The project of digitizing all of his notes began about two years ago. Smithies said he wanted them to be published to inspire young scientists.
University Archivist Nicholas Graham said the notes were published with the hopes of sharing them with a wider audience.
“He thought the books will have a lot of value for young scientists to be able to see firsthand how a scientist pursues his career,” Graham said.
Smithies said he thinks it will be interesting to people who like to see how time has changed how we look at things.
“It’s an old set of notebooks,” Smithies said.
“More than 150 notebooks going back to when I was an undergraduate nearly 75 years ago, and I have a record that I kept of all of the work that I did, including my undergraduate work and my work as a graduate student, and that’s when it became more interesting scientifically.”
Judy Panitch, spokesperson for UNC Libraries, said the notebooks are a unique record of not just research, but insight into the way a Nobel Prize-winning scientist thinks.
“You can see the evolution of his research, so there may be information in there that’s useful, but Dr. Smithies himself has talked about wanting to provide inspiration for future researchers and students who come along,” Panitch said. “Seeing the evolution of a scientific career really does provide inspiration.”
Even though Smithies has published his notes, he still continues to write.
“I’m not doing quite as many experiments as I used to do, but I write down quite often what I’ve been thinking about doing that day and so on,” Smithies said. “I think everyone writes something, it’s whether they keep them that’s important.”
Whether someone is an aspiring scientist or just interested in seeing how history has changed, Panitch said the notebooks are an interesting read.
“I encourage people to take a look at them even if you aren’t a scientist. It’s really a remarkable record of a remarkable career,” Panitch said.
Smithies’ published notes can be found at http://smithies.lib.unc.edu/.