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Luft (Ulrich Cameron) Papers
MSS 0475  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Restrictions

  • Descriptive Summary

    Languages: English
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla 92093-0175
    Title: Ulrich Cameron Luft Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0475
    Physical Description: 19.8 Linear feet (38 archives boxes, 11 card file boxes, 1 records carton, 4 oversize folders, and 1 art bin item)
    Date (inclusive): 1907-1991
    Abstract: Papers of Ulrich Cameron Luft, research physiologist and physician. Luft was an authority in the fields of lung physiology and acclimatization to high altitude.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Papers of Ulrich Cameron Luft, research physiologist and physician. Luft was an authority in the fields of lung physiology and acclimatization to high altitude. The collection contains correspondence, much of it related to Luft's research interests; published and unpublished writings by Luft and others from the 1930s through the 1980s; Luft's experimental and reference files containing notes, calculations, graphs and illustrations; photographs of Luft, his colleagues and family; photographs and slides of equipment and people in research settings; and, medical instruments. Arranged in nine series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, 2) CORRESPONDENCE, 3) WRITINGS BY ULRICH LUFT, 4) EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH MATERIAL, 5) TEACHING MATERIAL, 6) HIGH ALTITUDE EXPEDITIONS, 7) WRITINGS OF OTHERS, 8) MEDICAL APPARATUS, and 9) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.
    Four series contain material reflecting Luft's personal and professional life in Germany. The BIOGRAPHICAL series includes family and personal documents issued in pre-war, wartime and post-war Germany; Luft's WRITINGS series contains copies of most of his own work, published and unpublished, in the period 1936-1944; the WRITINGS OF OTHERS includes published and unpublished work of colleagues from these same years and earlier. The core of the HIGH ALTITUDE EXPEDITION series is formed by his Nanga Parbat files. Many of the items in these four series are in German.
    The material dated after his arrival in the United States in 1947 reflects his career as researcher, teacher and consultant. The extensive Series EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH MATERIAL series includes Luft's notes and data on his own research, subject files containing his annotated reprints of work done by others and illustrative material in several formats. This material characterizes his research methods but has few connections with specific projects. The small series of TEACHING MATERIAL documents courses in repiratory physiology for the period 1964-1980. Luft's teaching and consulting work is often referred to in the CORRESPONDENCE. There is little documentation for his administrative responsibilities at the School of Aviation Medicine or the Lovelace Medical Foundation.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL is arranged in three subseries: A) Germany, 1907-1947; B) United States, 1947-1989; and C) Family Photographs and Slides.
    A) Germany, 1907-1947, consists almost entirely of documents (originals or copies) related to Luft's family and his career.
    B) United States, 1947-1989, contains a wider range of material, but largely parallels his employment history in the United States. The travel requests and authorizations for the "Operation Paperclip" scientists indicate the security concerns of the time.
    C) Family Photographs and Slides contain formal and informal portraits of Ulrich Luft, snapshots of his family at their homes in Texas and New Mexico, with other people, and during travel abroad.
    The CORRESPONDENCE is arranged alphabetically, interfiling personal and business correspondents. Almost all letters date from Luft's years in the United States, although he did retain those of two mountaineering groups, the Akademischer Alpenverein Munchen and the Deutsche Himalaja Stiftung, as well as copies of his letters of farewell to colleagues in Berlin, "Abschied von Berlin." He corresponded with friends and colleagues who had remained in Germany or had come to the United States (e.g., Bruno Balke, Erich Opitz, Hermann Rahn, Hubertus Strughold) and with an international group of colleagues and former students (e.g., Per-Olaf Astrand, David Cardus-Pascual, Alberto Hurtado, Carlos Monge-Medrano, among others).
    Luft's WRITINGS are arranged in two subseries: A) Journal Articles and Papers, and B) NASA Research Reports.
    A) Journal Articles and Papers are arranged alphabetically by title. Luft maintained numbered lists of his publications, giving English translations for his German language works from the period 1936-1944. These lists begin the subseries, which contains reprints of almost all of Luft's research publications, many accompanied by notes, graphs and drafts. Luft sometimes kept related correspondence and reprints of work by others with his own publications, and this material has been kept with this subseries.
    Luft wrote reminiscences and memorial tributes to friends and former colleagues, including Bruno Balke, Hans Hartmann, William R. Lovelace, and Erich Opitz, which were published or delivered as part of memorial services. These are interfiled by title, as is his account of his time at the Aero-Medical Research Institute in Berlin, entitled "Luftfahrtmedizinische Forschungsinstitut, Berlin, Erinnerungen, 1937-1945."
    B) NASA Research Reports are in chronological order, 1967-1980, when Luft's laboratory was under contract to conduct specialized physiological studies in support of manned space flight. He worked with Jack A. Loeppky, among others, and the reports were prepared under Luft's supervision.
    Luft's writings related to the Nanga Parbat expeditions are located in Series 6.
    The EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH MATERIAL series is arranged in six subseries according to type of material, following Luft's own categorizations by format type and use: A) Notes and Data, B) Index Cards and Graphs, C) Pulmonary Function and Exercise Data on U. Luft, D) Subject Files, E) Prints, Slides and Films, and F) Lantern Slides.
    The first two subseries contain notes and data on his own experimental research and notes he made during his study of the work of others.
    A) Notes and Data are arranged alphabetically using Luft's own titles for his areas of research. Items in the folders are varied and include handwritten and typescript notes, graphs, tables, charts, formulae, and calculations.
    B) Index Cards and Graphs also use Luft's original titles for the notes and citations he made on cards and data recorded on graphs.
    C) Pulmonary Function and Exercise Data on U. Luft is arranged chronologically. Luft often used himself as a subject, and this subseries tracks his results for the years 1954-1980.
    D) Subject Files primarily consist of copies and reprints of articles by other researchers with annotations by Luft. They are arranged alphabetically using Luft's titles and occasionally contain correspondence and notes.
    E) Prints, Slides and Films are arranged alphabetically, mostly under Luft's titles. They show research data, equipment, people, and procedures.
    F) Lantern Slides. These are arranged alphabetically using Luft's titles and also contain research related subject matter.
    The TEACHING MATERIAL is arranged alphabetically by course and contains lecture outlines and notes, reading lists, assignments, graphs, and reprints. While Luft also had teaching and academic administration responsibilities early in his career, this series documents the courses, mainly in respiratory physiology, for the years 1964-1980.
    The HIGH ALTITUDE EXPEDITIONS are arranged alphabetically in four subseries, following the course of Luft's expedition experience and lifelong interest: A) Nanga Parbat, 1937, B) Nanga Parbat, 1938, C) Nanga Parbat, 1942-1989, and D) Miscellaneous.
    A) The Nanga Parbat, 1937, subseries consists of Luft's expedition notebooks and his written accounts of events on Nanga Parbat. A typed transcription of the diary of Luft's close friend and colleague, Hans Hartmann, is in this subseries, along with newspaper reports.
    B) The Nanga Parbat, 1938, subseries contains Luft's expedition notebooks and descriptive accounts, weather data and the published and unpublished accounts of others. Of particular interest is the 16 mm film, a documentary record of the return expedition.
    C) The Nanga Parbat, 1942-1989, subseries contains Luft's later writings on the expeditions, including the 1988 article, "Medical Research on Nanga Parbat, 1938," written at the invitation of the editor of the Annals of Sports Medicine.
    D) The Miscellaneous subseries contains an ice axe and photographs of a German high altitude research station in the Alps.
    Luft's original files of the WRITINGS OF OTHERS form the core of Series 7, which consists mainly of pre-1950 reprints published in Germany, galley proofs of articles that remained unpublished because of the close of World War II, and unpublished research reports. Most of these writings are in German. They are arranged alphabetically by author, with anonymous items interfiled by title.
    This series contains a variety of small medical instruments and measuring devices that belonged to Luft, many of German or Swiss manufacture.
    The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES series contains the originals of brittle or high acid content documents that have been photocopied. These originals are restricted. User copies must be used in place of these materials.


    The son of a Scottish mother and German father, Ulrich Cameron Luft was born in Berlin on April 25, 1910. He studied medicine at the universities of Freiburg, Munich and Berlin, 1929-1935. After a year as an intern, he was licensed as a physician and in 1937 completed a doctoral thesis on the physiological effects of oxygen deprivation.
    Luft took part in the 1937 and 1938 German mountaineering expeditions to Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas as research physiologist and team physician. Impressed with the stamina of the Sherpa guides, he realized there were adaptive mechanisms that could be studied. He collected data on the climbers, noting that tolerance to altitude increased over time and that this acquired tolerance persisted after descent. This effect was important in the unpressurized aircraft of the time and would become of vital importance during World War II.
    Returning to Germany, Luft joined the Luftfahrtmedizinische Forschungsinstitut (Aero-Medical Research Institute) in Berlin as head of its altitude physiology laboratory. He was drafted for military service in 1939 and spent three months in training, then returned to civilian status as a researcher. In 1941 he married a colleague, Alice Hentzelt, and the following year he was elected to the faculty at the University of Berlin. The requirements of military aviation focused Luft's research on rapid decompression, diffusing capacity of the lungs and duration of consciousness at altitude. He was also a consultant to the German military on thermal stress and nutrition.
    The university and institute were closed when the war ended, and Luft started a private medical practice. When the university reopened he was asked to become Acting Director of the Physiology Department. In April, 1947, Col. Harry Armstrong of the U.S. Air Force offered Luft a research appointment at the Air Force School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas. The offer was made under "Operation Paperclip," a program to bring German scientists to the United States.
    Luft was a researcher at the School until 1954, when he was asked by Randolph Lovelace to head the Department of Physiology at the Lovelace Clinic for Medical Education and Research in New Mexico. His research interests continued to center around the effect of oxygen deficiency on body tissues, leading to his contributions in a variety of fields: pulmonary disease, exercise tolerance, oxygen equipment design, and the testing and selection of the first Project Mercury astronauts in the early days of the NASA space program.
    A productive researcher and teacher with an extensive publication list and enduring ties with his former students, Luft received many awards and was honored with a symposium after his retirement in 1980.
    Ulrich Luft died on November 23, 1991, at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Preferred Citation

    Ulrich Cameron Luft Papers, MSS 475. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 1999.


    Films in Series 4: EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH MATERIAL and Series 6: HIGH ALITITUDE EXPEDITIONS are restricted. A DVD viewing copy, located in Box 32, is available in place of the films. Original materials deemed too fragile for use are restricted. User copies must be used in place of these materials.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Nanga Parbat (Pakistan)
    Physiologists -- Biography
    Physiology -- History
    Mountaineering expeditions -- Himalaya Mountains
    Mountaineering -- Pakistan -- Nanga Parbat
    Aviation medicine
    Decompression (Physiology)
    Altitude, Influence of
    Luft, U. C. (Ulrich C.) -- Archives
    Deutsche Himalaya-Expedition to Nanga Parbat (1938)
    Balke, Bruno -- Correspondence
    Åstrand, Per-Olof -- Correspondence
    Dill, David Bruce, 1891- -- Correspondence
    Deutsche Himalaya-Expedition to Nanga Parbat (1937)
    West, John B. (John Burnard) -- Correspondence
    Rahn, Hermann, 1912-1990 -- Correspondence
    USAF School of Aerospace Medicine. Department of Physiology
    NASA Advisory Council. Aerospace Medicine Advisory Committee -- Correspondence
    Opitz, Erich, 1871-1926 -- Correspondence
    Monge M., Carlos (Monge Medrano), 1884-1970 -- Correspondence
    Hurtado, Alberto, 1901-1983 -- Correspondence
    Hartmann, Hans
    Houston, Charles S. -- Correspondence