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Harry J. Svec papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RS 13/6/53

Scope and Content

The collection (1865-2013, undated) includes such materials as artifacts, correspondence, papers, interview transcripts, published works, research materials, project records, proposals, notebooks, lectures, and interviews with former Chemistry Department faculty, including Henry Gilman, on audiocassettes. Most of the materials cover his work in mass spectrometry, the Ames Laboratory and Chemistry Department, course involvement, research, and professional organizations.

The terms "mass spectrometry" and "mass spectroscopy" are both used in the collection. Since these refer to the same technique and "mass spectrometry" is the current preferred term, "spectroscopy" has been replaced except in publication or organization titles.

An appendix of frequently used acronyms is included at the end of this finding aid.

Negatives from the collection are housed in the vault, as follows (negative numbers are also included with associated folders in the container list):

5x7: 114533-114574

4x5: 106489-106517, 114518-114532, 114619

35mm strips: 114463-114479, 114495-114517, 114616-114618, 114642-114643

120mm strips: 114575-114586,114601-114615, 114620


  • 1865-2013, undated

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


Harry J. Svec was born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 24, 1918. He attended college as an undergraduate in Cleveland at John Carroll University, where he graduated magna cum laude in pre-medicine in 1941. That year he went on to graduate school at Iowa State College (University), where he became the departmental glassblower and created diffusion pumps and other items for the Chemistry Department. He was interrupted in his studies by World War II and work on the Manhattan Project. Under the direction of Frank H. Spedding, Svec and other Ames Laboratory staff, including Harley Wilhelm, worked on refining uranium and developed what is known as the Ames Process, which is a particularly efficient way of purifying uranium. From 1942-1945, the Ames Laboratory produced about 1,000 tons of uranium for the Manhattan Project.

After the Manhattan Project, Svec was appointed to the Ames Laboratory/Institute for Atomic Research. While conducting graduate work under Spedding, he built the first mass spectrometers at ISU. In 1950 he earned his Ph.D. and was granted faculty status. As a faculty member, he taught, published, and conducted research, contributing significantly to the use of mass spectrometry for analysis in many areas of chemistry. In 1978, Svec was named a distinguished professor, and upon his retirement in 1983, he was given the title Professor Emeritus.

Svec was a member of many societies and a Fellow of Royal Society of Chemistry, then known as The Chemical Society (London). He was a charter member of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E-14 Committee on Mass Spectrometry, which became the American Society for Mass Spectrometry. He served that society from 1973-1978 in roles such as Vice President for Programs and President. He was also one of the founding editors for International Journal of Mass Spectrometry and Ion Physics, which is now the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry. In 1978, Dr. Svec was an early contributor to laser mass spectrometry as well. Additionally, the standard reference material that has been used to validate lithium isotopic measurements is called "L-Svec" in his honor, since he prepared and analyzed the material. In 1984, Svec received the American Chemical Society’s Zimmerman Award for Environmental Science for his work in developing the resin extraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) methods for removing organic pollutants in water.

When he retired in June of 1983, he had been associated with Iowa State for 42 years. After this time, Svec finished writing a history of the Chemistry Department at Iowa State University that documented events, developments, and people through the World War II years. This work was published by the Chemistry Department in 2006. Svec passed away on November 28, 2006. Svec married Edna Bruno in 1943, and they had nine children together — five sons and four daughters. His wife, Edna Svec, passed away in June 2013.


46.20 Linear Feet (28 record center cartons, 2 document boxes, 2 map case folders, 13 artifact boxes)


Harry J. Svec (1918-2006) was a professor in the Chemistry Department and researcher at the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University. Perhaps best known for his work with mass spectrometry, Svec also worked under Frank H. Spedding on the Manhattan Project and served as the departmental glassblower in the Chemistry Department. He earned his Ph.D. at Iowa State in 1950. This collection contains correspondence and various records of Svec’s tenure at Iowa State, including materials such as published works, project records, lectures, and notebooks. Most of the materials cover his work in mass spectrometry, the Ames Laboratory and Chemistry Department, course involvement, research, and professional organizations.


This collection is organized into two series:

Series 1, Correspondence, 1898-1995, undated (alphabetical)

Series 2, Professional Activities, 1865-2013, undated (alphabetical)

Correspondence is listed in alphabetical order except for one box, which was originally in chronological order. Professional Activities is also listed in alphabetical order.

Items in related collections

RS 13/6. Iowa State University. Department of Chemistry records, 1883-2014 RS 17/1. Ames Laboratory records RS 13/6/51. Nellie M. Naylor papers, 1909-1993 RS 13/6/56. Rachel Hartman Edgar papers, 1926-1970, undated RS 13/6/20. Robert J. Angelici papers, 1959-2008, undated RS 13/6/5. Iowa State University. Department of Chemistry records. - Oral Histories, 2011-2012 RS 13/6/52. Henry Gilman papers, 1893-1993

Related collection materials

Related items in the Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library include:

•Frank H. Spedding Papers (17/1/11)

•Velmer Fassel Papers (17/1/51)

•Chemistry at Iowa State University: Some historical accounts of the early years (QD47.5 I83 I58x 2006)

Collection Files

Processing Information

Released on 2018-11-01.

RS 13/6/53. Harry J. Svec papers, 1865-2013, undated
December 7, 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672