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W. (William) Noordenbos papers, 1955-1989
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Access Points
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: W. (William) Noordenbos Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1955-1989
    Collection number: 129
    Origination: Noordenbos, W. (William)
    Extent: Two cubic-foot cartons, three letter-size document boxes
    Repository: Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library

    History and Special Collections Division
    University of California, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA 90095-1798
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research, with the following exceptions: Folders in Box 5 are restricted. Contact the manuscript curator at the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, History and Special Collections Division, for information on access to these files.


    The William Noordenbos Papers were given to the John C. Liebeskind History of Pain Collection by his children, two of whom, Corinne Noordenbos and Ada van Mourik-Noordenbos, hand-delivered them to Los Angeles in January, 1997.

    Publication Rights

    Information on permission to reproduce, quote, or publish is available from the History & Special Collections Division.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], W. (William) Noordenbos papers (Manuscript collection 129). Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, History & Special Collections Division, University of California, Los Angeles.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 4233504 

    Access Points

    Noordenbos, W.
    Pain. (MeSH)
    Neurophysiology. (MeSH)
    Neurosurgery. (MeSH)
    International Association for the Study of Pain.


    William Noordenbos (1910-1990) was a Dutch neurosurgeon whose contributions to the field of pain helped inaugurate the current era of research in pain mechanisms. Noordenbos was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on August 11, 1910, the third child and only son of a family prominent in medicine and science. His father was Willem Noordenbos, a general surgeon and later dean of the medical school at the University of Amsterdam, and his mother, Jacoba Cornelia Noordenbos-Kapteijn--the daughter of J. Kapteijn, a distinguished academic astronomer--was one of the first female doctors in the Netherlands.
    Noordenbos, planning a career in medicine like his parents, began his studies in Amsterdam, but working under his father's considerable shadow proved to be too much pressure, and he went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in June, 1937. He continued his surgical training in Scotland, then somewhat reluctantly returned to the Netherlands in late 1939 when mobilization was called due to the threat of war. During the war, both William Noordenbos and his father were taken away by the Germans: his father as a hostage to a concentration camp, and William to prison for his angry outburst over this. Both terms were brief. During this turbulent period, he married Jonkvrouwe [a Dutch title equivalent to the British "Lady"] Cornelia ("Cox") van Heemskerck van Beest, a medical analyst who worked in a laboratory at the hospital, in January 1943, and over the next ten years they had four children: three girls and one boy.
    Throughout the 1940s Noordenbos worked as a clinical neurosurgeon at the University of Amsterdam Surgical Clinic. In 1946 he spent six months visiting several neurosurgery departments in Great Britain, and then in 1950 he spent another half-year as the only neurosurgeon in the Dutch East Indies. He returned to Amsterdam to begin at Wilhelmina-Gasthuis, a hospital at the University of Amsterdam, eventually setting up the hospital's department of neurosurgery. During the late 1950s, Noordenbos worked on applying his clinical knowledge and experience to the more theoretical realm of academia, and he produced his first and only monograph.
    Noordenbos's book Pain: problems pertaining to the transmission of nerve impulses , a "preliminary statement" published by Elsevier in 1959, began as his dissertation to become a Doctor in de Geneeskunde (Doctor in Medicine), equivalent to a Ph.D. in the United States and necessary for his professorship. In this 182-page book, he "launched the present era" of pain research, according to Pat Wall, with three new methods: a broader system of clinical examination of the pain patient's feelings and sensations; recognition, through this new way of examining, of the role of temporal summation in the provocation of pain; and the idea of fibre dissociation as a possible explanation of the temporal summation problem. Examination of nerve fibers biopsied from patients he was treating for postherpetic neuralgia had led Noordenbos to recognize relationships between large and small nerve fibers. Noordenbos described the relationship between these fibers as "fast blocks slow." Wall always gave Noordenbos credit for laying, with his clinical work, the practical foundation upon which he and Ron Melzack built their gate control theory of pain, which they published in Science in 1965 as "Pain mechanisms: a new theory."
    Noordenbos's research and academic writing continued throughout his career. He wrote and published about pain, neural function, surgical technique, and was very involved in the development of a taxonomy of pain. He studied phantom limb pain in amputees in Israel with Pat Wall after the Yom Kippur War, circa 1973. Noordenbos was also a founding member of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), and was instrumental in arranging for the publication of its journal, PAIN, by Elsevier in Amsterdam.
    An avid sailor his whole life (at 18 he sailed alone to Copenhagen in a cabinless "Dragon"), Noordenbos built a number of boats, culminating in the Lucipara and the Lucipara II. He involved his family in sailing and yachting, and he and Cox made transatlantic crossings in 1962 and 1978. Applying his scientific mind to his avocation, he always dreamed of developing a portable instrument to render seawater fit for drinking by removing salt through electrolysis. He apparently succeeded on a larger-scale level, but was unable to devote the time necessary to scaling down the instrument enough to make it practical.
    William Noordenbos died in March, 1990.
    "Curriculum Vitae" [Box 2, Folder 6], William Noordenbos Papers, Manuscript collection number 129, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, History & Special Collections Division, University of California, Los Angeles.
    Noordenbos, Corinne and Ada van Mourik-Noordenbos. Oral history with John C. Liebeskind (1/26/97). Part of the John C. Liebeskind History of Pain Collection, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, History & Special Collections Division, University of California, Los Angeles.
    Correspondence between John C. Liebeskind and Corinne Noordenbos and Ada van Mourik-Noordenbos, 1995-1997.
    Wall, Patrick D. "Obituary." Pain, 42 (1990) 265-267.

    Scope and Content

    Information in brackets was collected from material inside the folder. Information in parentheses was supplied by Noordenbos's daughters in an inventory list sent prior to the delivery of the Noordenbos papers. Information neither in brackets nor parentheses was part of or all of the original folder title. If additional relevant material was written on the original folder, or if the transcribed information was in question, or if there was information that would have been transcribed had it been legible, then the original folder cover has been cut to a manageable size and included in the final, acid-free folder.
    Noordenbos wrote in Dutch, English, and French. His handwriting is very difficult to read, sometimes bordering on illegible. Generally he wrote in English; materials in Dutch or French are noted as such in the container list.