Title: Edward Wesley Hughes Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1924-1979
Hughes, Edward Wesley
Extent: 9.5 linear feet
California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All
requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing
to the Head of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the
California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not
intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be
obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item, Box and file number], Edward Wesley Hughes Papers, Archives,
California Institute of Technology.
Edward Wesley Hughes was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on March 22, 1904, the only
child of a Pennsylvania mining engineer and his wife. He attended schools in north
Pennsylvania and became interested in chemistry when he took it as an "overload" subject
in high school.
In 1924, he received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Cornell and remained there for
the next fourteen years. While at Cornell, he gained his Ph.D. in 1935. During this
period, he became interested in crystallography after hearing Professor Carlton C.
Murdock lecture and went to work with Murdock as a graduate student in the physics
department. In 1934, Murdock recommended him as teaching assistant to a visiting
professor, Lawrence Bragg -who later became Nobel Laureate Sir Lawrence Bragg. X-ray
crystallography was invented by Bragg, and Hughes felt honored to work with him and act
as technical editor on his book for the Cornell Press. In 1937, Hughes was again
recommended as a teaching assistant, this time to Linus Pauling, who was impressed enough
to ask him to act as a technical editor on a book and to offer him a two-year post at
In 1938, Hughes arrived at Caltech to do research in the chemistry division. During
1940-42, he was involved in teaching "war courses" for technicians from the armed
services in X-ray techniques. He also worked with Melvin Calvin on a war research project
that was a subcontract with Berkeley. The contract was not renewed in 1943 because
Pauling felt the war would be over before its practical applications were developed.
For the next two and a half years, Hughes worked for the Shell Development Company, the
research branch of Shell Oil, at Emeryville. He did not really enjoy his time there and
returned to Caltech in April 1946. The remainder of his professional life was spent here,
except for one year's leave of absence in 1951, as a Brotherton Research lecturer, at The
University, Leeds, England. When he returned, he had married Ruth Joanna Heprer, R. N.,
who became known as the "fabulous" Mrs. Hughes. The Hugheses were active members of the
Caltech community, acting as hosts to visiting scientists. Mrs. Hughes established a
chemistry division wives' group and such institutions as the "garage," now run by the
Women's Club. She worked in the division office and helped Pauling research his book,
No More War. In 1974, Edward Hughes retired but remained involved in
Caltech life, particularly through his work for the chemistry division's Safety
Edward Hughes was a respected chemist and continued the pioneering work in
crystallography, begun at Caltech by Burdick and Ellis in 1916, when he introduced the
"Least Squares Method" in 1940. This is the universally accepted method for handling the
large amount of data involved in the refinement of crystal structure. He was a member of
several organizations, including the International Union of Crystallography, for which he
was the United States' National Academy delegate at five international meetings, between
1956 and 1963. He served on other committees within the IUC, including the USA National
Committee for Crystallography. Hughes served as a national committeeman for the American
Crystallographic Association, was president of Association in 1954, and also acted as
their unofficial photographer. Between 1957 and 1963, he was the U.S. coeditor of the
Acta Crystallographica. He wrote and published many
papers and contributed to several books on chemistry and crystallography.
Despite suffering from bad attacks of hay fever and some back trouble, Hughes was a
member of the Wildflowers and the Trailblazers Societies. He also enjoyed photography.
Hughes was respected professionally and had a worldwide network of friends and
colleagues. Dr. Hughes's warmth and lively sense of humor are evident in his
correspondence, as is the esteem in which he was held. Edward Hughes, Senior Research
Associate in Chemistry, Emeritus, died in Pasadena on December 24, 1987, at the age of