Collection ID: M-0226

Collection context


Low, Barbara Wharton
Personal papers of Barbara Wharton Low, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons was known for her expertise in X-ray crystallography. Includes correspondence, drafts of papers and lectures, reprints of scientific articles, laboratory notebooks, and photographs spanning her career.
9.6 cubic feet and 23 boxes
English French Polish Russian


Scope and Content:

Includes correspondence, drafts of papers, lectures, and other writings, curricula vitae, exams, syllabi and other course materials, reprints and other publications, laboratory notebooks and loose notes, plotted charts and computations, scientific illustrations and photographs. The material span’s the research and career of Low using X-ray crystallography, although the bulk originates from her work at Columbia University. Scientific illustration consists of transparencies, drawings, print-outs, and photographic prints. These scientific illustrations and data document the use of emerging chemical analysis methods and tools, such as Beever-Lipson computations.

Biographical / Historical:

Biochemist Barbara Wharton Low was born March 23, 1920 in Lancaster England to parents Matthew Low and Mary Jane Wharton. Her expertise in X-ray crystallography contributed to the knowledge of atomic structures and thus, the manufacturing of chemicals in the mid-20th century.

She received degrees from Oxford University (B.A. 1942, M.A. 1946, Ph.D. 1948) including a doctorate in chemistry where she studied under Nobel laureate Dorothy C. Hodgkin at Somerville College—the school at Oxford University which enrolled women at this time. Low was part of the laboratory team that discovered the molecular structure of penicillin containing a β-lactam ring using X-ray crystallography in 1945. The structure was later published in chapter “The X-ray Crystallographic Investigation of the Structure of Penicillin” authored by D. Crowfoot (Hodgkin), C. W. Bunn, B. W. Rogers-Low and A. Turner-Jones in the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) book The Chemistry of Penicillin. (Princeton N.J: Princeton Univ. Press, 1949). This work allowed for the mass production of penicillin and was funded and classified information by the UK government during World War II.

Low immigrated to the United States in the late 1940s to work as research assistant in the laboratory of Linus C. Pauling and Robert Corey at the California Institute of Technology, studying helical folding in protein structure. Beginning in 1948, She served as research associate at Harvard Medical school and joined the University Laboratory of Physical Chemistry Related to Medicine and Public Health, Harvard University in 1950. Low was Assistant Professor at Harvard University (1950-1956) working with Edwin J. Cohn and John T. Edsall, both known for their work in blood fractionation during World War II. Low was married to Gordon Leonard Rogers in 1944 in the United Kingdom and to Mieczyslaw “Metchie” J.E. Budka in 1950 in the United States.

She left Harvard for Columbia University where she established a laboratory within the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She continued crystallography studies in the structure of insulin and neurotoxins, including curare and cobra venom.

Appointments: Associate Professor 1956-1965; Professor 1966-; Professor of Biochemistry Crystallography 1967-1976; Professor (tenure) 1977; Professor Emeritus 1990

She was an active member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Crystallographic Association, among other professional organizations. Low helped support and mentor other women in science via professional organization and Columbia University’s affirmative action committee.

Low died at age 98 years on January 10, 2019 in the Bronx, New York City.

Acquisition information:
Gift of the Barbara Low estate (accession #2019.025).

Arranged into five series: I. Correspondence, II. Professional, III. Scientific projects, IV. Writings, V. Personal, which are further arranged into subseries. Folder-level control.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: a Content Standard



Open for research with restrictions: In accordance with the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), educational records of living students and alumni are open only to the student/alumni, his/her guardian, those researchers who have been granted access by the student/former student, or to University administrators with a need to know. Educational records of deceased students are closed for 25 years after date of last attendance, or, if death date unknown, 100 years or more since last date of attendance.

Columbia University records are closed to researchers for 25 years from date of creation.


Handling and reproduction of water-damaged material determined by staff.

630 West 168th Street
New York, NY 10032, United States