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William Duane Papers

Identifier: COU:544

Scope and Contents

The William Duane Papers span the years 1898 to 1935. The collection contains only brief information about Professor Duane, mainly certificates, correspondence, photographs, and a family scrapbook of clippings.


  • 1898 - 1935

Biographical Note

Dr. William Duane was professor-emeritus of bio-physics at Harvard University, world renowned for his research into radioactivity and X-rays, and inventor of a machine for treating cancer through use of X-ray. He worked closely with Pierre and Mme. Curie in their Paris laboratory for five years. He was also a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin.

Duane was born in Philadelphia on February 17, 1872, the son of Charles W. and Emma Cushman Lincoln Duane. He was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1892. The following year he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University and in 1895, his Masters of Arts. During that time he served as an assistant in the physics department. On the Tyndall Fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania, he studied at the Universities of Berlin and Gottingen, receiving a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the former in 1897. His thesis was published by the Imperial German Government, a rare honor for a foreigner.

He returned to the United States to become the first professor and head of the department of physics at the University of Colorado from 1898 to 1907 where he had a distinguished career. At the invitation of Pierre and Mme. Curie, he went to Paris in 1907 to join them in their radium research at the University of Paris, remaining for five years until 1912. During that time he had the distinction of being one of the few foreigners ever to receive a salary while doing research at the university.

In 1913, Duane returned to the United States to be assistant professor of physics at Harvard. His work also connected him with the Collis P. Huntington Hospital, the Harvard Cancer Commission and other medical facilities in Boston. His studies of X-rays and radioactivity gained him not only an international reputation, but recognition as a highly renowned expert on the subject of radioactivity in the medical field. In 1917, Harvard University created the chair of bio-physics for him, a post he held until ill health forced his retirement in 1934.

Professor Duane received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Colorado. He was a member of the National Research Council, American Physical Society, French Physical Society, a former president of the American Society for Cancer Research, member of the Radiology Society, American Roentgen Ray Society, American Philosophical Society, National Academy of Sciences, Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Phi Beta Kappa and other organizations.

For his scientific work in radioactivity and X-rays, he was awarded the John Scott Medal in 1922; the Comstock Prize of the National Academy of Science in 1922; and the Leonard Prize of the American Roentgen Society in 1923.

On December 28, 1899, in Philadelphia, Duane married Caroline Elise Ravenel from Charleston, South Carolina. They had four children: William, Arthur Ravenel, John Prioleau, and Margaretta. William Duane died on March 7, 1935, in Devon, Pennsylvania, following a protracted illness and complications from diabetes.

On March 11, 1972, the University of Colorado, Boulder Campus, dedicated the Duane Physical Laboratories in memory of his distinguished scientific career. The complex encompasses seven buildings including the George Gamow Tower, the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics Tower (JILA), and the Walz Lecture Halls.


2 linear feet (1 box and oversize)

Language of Materials



Records briefly document the life of William Duane, professor emeritus of bio-physics at Harvard University and professor of physics at the University of Colorado from 1898 to 1907. He was world renowned for his researches into radioactivity and X-rays. He worked with Pierre and Mmd. Curie in their University of Paris laboratory for five years, and he developed the first machine for treating cancer.

The chair of bio-physics was created for him at Harvard University in 1913, and he held that chair until ill health forced him to retire in 1934. Duane received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado. He was a member of many national and international scientific organizations. For his research in radioactivity and the X-ray, he was awarded the John Scott Medal in 1922, the Comstock prize of the National Academy of Science in 1922, and the Leonard Prize of the American Roentgen Society in 1923.

William Duane was married in 1899 to Caroline Elise Ravenel and they had four children. The documents include certificates, correspondence and photographs.


This collection is arranged in original order in which we attained it from the donor, with a box level inventory list.

In Progress
Cassandra M. Volpe, October, 1993
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States