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Guide to the C.B. van Niel Papers
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Collection Details
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  • Overview
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Access Terms

  • Overview

    Call Number: SC0325
    Creator: Niel, Cornelis Bernardus van, 1897-1986
    Title: C.B. van Niel papers
    Dates: 1923-1977
    Physical Description: 6.25 Linear feet
    Language(s): The materials are in English.
    Repository: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Green Library
    557 Escondido Mall
    Stanford, CA 94305-6064
    Email: specialcollections@stanford.edu
    Phone: (650) 725-1022
    URL: http://library.stanford.edu/spc

    Administrative Information


    Custodial History

    Gift of the estate of C.B. van Niel,1985

    Information about Access


    Ownership & Copyright

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.

    Cite As

    [Identification of item], C.B. van Niel Papers, SC 325, Stanford University Archives, Stanford, Calif.


    In 1929, Dr. C. B. van Niel (1897-1985) started his career as an associate professor at the Jacques Loeb Laboratory, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University. He was appointed Herzstein Professor of Microbiology in 1946.
    Dr. van Niel received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Technical University, Delft, in 1923; in 1928 he was conferred a doctoral degree from the same University. His research, after coming to the Marine Station, was concerned mainly with photosynthesis, photosynthetic bacteria, and bacterial taxonomy. However, Dr. van Niel--Kees to his colleagues and students-- was interested in a much broader spectrum of questions and encouraged investigations on wider range of phenomena in his laboratory. His lectures attracted not only Stanford students, but students around the country. The numerous well-written lecture/seminar notes in this collection, mostly with diagrams and images that he planed to draw on blackboard, illuminate how well he prepared for these lectures. Although he enjoyed a friendly relationship with these students, the "gang", he was rigorous in their academic training. A long letter (hand-written first and then typed) to one of his doctoral students with detailed instruction on the student's dissertation shows van Niel as a serious and responsible professor.
    By devoting an enormous amount of time translating articles published by Dr. Kluyver, van Niel's advisor at Technical University, and Dr. Pringsheim, van Niel showed his gratitude and respect to his senior microbiologists and their works. Same attitude can be seen from publications of the later part of his career. In these articles he analyzed old and current articles on the subject he was dealing with and provided well-woven stories on research history. Probably because of his appreciation of history, (among his papers is a bibliography on American history, possibly given to him by a history professor) he wrote an autobiography, "The Education of a Microbiologist: Some Reflections." (1967), which sums up his major scientific achievements and his teaching career.
    Dr. van Niel also actively participated in academic/professional associations such as the Society of American Bacteriologists in the 1950s and the American Type Culture Collections in the 1960s. However, as he recalled in his autobiography, these and other activities were taking up too much of his time and gradually made direct participation in experimental study difficult. He finally decided to retire from the Marine Station in 1962. From 1964 to 1968 he taught at U.C. Santa Cruz as a visiting professor. After 1972, he threw out his collection of reprints and scientific books and totally gave up research and teaching. Death took him in 1985.

    Scope and Content

    The van Niel papers primarily document C. B. van Niel's career at the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, his participation in preeminent scientific associations, and his role as a leader in the field of microbiology. The papers include ATCC documents, teaching materials, research notes, publications, correspondences, photographs, audiotapes, and medals.
    The American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) papers delineate activities of the association when van Niel served as a board member in the early 1960s. Teaching Materials include course outlines, exam questions, lecture notes, and seminar notes, written between 1929 and 1968. Publications include his articles published from 1923 to 1972. Many of the hand-written drafts and galley proofs accompany these publications. The records of van Niel's research in the Yellowstone National Park, including admission letter, experimental summary, notes, and drafts, are grouped together under the article's title, Report on Preliminary Observations on the Microflora in and Near the Hot Spring in Yellowstone National Part and Their Importance for the Geological Formation, to preserve its entirety. Research Files mainly comprise his experimental summaries, experimental procedures, notes, charts, and bibliographies. Van Niel's correspondence (1924-1977) centers on themes of research, publication, and student's dissertations. One exception is a letter to his son on personal matters. Correspondents include C. E. Clifton (1904- ), Seymour S. Cohen (1919- ), Lois Epel, Helge Larsen, Jack London [a student from UCLA], Beryl V. Daniel, J. R. Porter, Hosmer W. Stone, and Charles H. Walkinshaw.
    When compiling SELECTED PAPERS OF E.G. PRINGSHEIM, van Niel corresponded with Dr. Pringsheim, Mrs. Pringsheim, Selman A. Waksman (1888-1973), and Vernon Bryson (1913- ) between 1960 and 1964. These letters, together with the galley proofs for this book, are put under the series of SELECTED PAPERS OF E.G. PRINGSHEIM. Dr. Kluyver's Birthday Celebration and Obituary includes van Niel's writings about his teacher, Dr. Kluyver (1888-1956), the telegram to van Niel about Kluyver's death in 1956, and many obituaries written by other scholars.
    The photographs files include images of microbiology, people (mostly scholars) and landscapes. Important medals van Niel won from 1939 to 1977 demonstrate him as a leading figure in science. Audiotapes recorded van Niel's 1962 lectures on experiments. Oversized Materials are certificates of honorary doctoral degree, honorary member, and award.

    Access Terms

    American Type Culture Collection..
    Bryson, Vernon,, 1913-
    Clifton, C. E.,, 1904-
    Cohen, Seymour S., (Seymour Stanley), 1917-
    Daniel, Beryl V.
    Epel, Lois.
    Hopkins Marine Station -- General subdivision--Faculty.;
    Larsen, Helge.
    London, Jack,, 1876-1916.
    Porter, J. R.
    Pringsheim, Ernst G., (Ernst Georg), 1881-
    Stone, Hosmer W.
    Waksman, Selman A., (Selman Abraham), 1888-1973.
    Walkinshaw, Charles H.
    Candida albicans.
    Photosynthetic bacteria.