Skip to main content

Samuel Epstein Papers

Identifier: 10159-MS

Scope and Content

The collection is divided into seven series:

  1. Correspondence
  2. California Institute of Technology
  3. Manuscripts, Preprints and Reprints
  4. Talks, Conferences and Meetings
  5. Research Files
  6. Technical Files
  7. Biographical


  • 1942-2002


Language of Materials



The collection is open for research with the exception of the following seven files: 14.7, 15.7, and 15.10 through 15.14, that are closed due to their confidential matters. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

Publication Rights

Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Caltech Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.


Samuel Epstein was born near Kobryn, Poland in 1919 and moved to Winnipeg, Canada with his family in 1927. After graduating from high school in 1937, he attended the University of Manitoba, where he earned a BS in geology and chemistry in 1941 and a MS in chemistry in 1942. In 1944 he received his PhD in chemistry at McGill University, where he conducted research on the kinetics of reactions involving the high explosive RDX.

Immediately after graduation Epstein joined the Canadian Atomic Energy Project in Montreal where he worked on rare-gas fission products resulting from the fission of U235.

In 1948, he joined Nobel Laureate Harold Urey at the University of Chicago on an oxygen isotope paleotemperature project that Urey was in the process of initiating. The period Epstein spent at the University of Chicago (1948-1952) was the beginning of his distinguished career in isotope geochemistry.

In June 1952, Epstein was invited by Harrison Brown to join a team of scientists at Caltech, among them Clair C. Patterson and Charles McKinney. This group formed the nucleus of what would become Caltech's geochemistry program. Epstein joined the Geology Division as a research fellow in geochemistry in 1952, was appointed Associate Professor of Geochemistry in 1954, and Professor of Geochemistry in 1959.

Epstein began his research on the utility of oxygen isotope data in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary related problems, as well as investigating the isotopic fractionations associated with the growth of plants and the formation of petroleum. He carried out important research on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, on isotope composition of hydrogen and oxygen in tree rings, and on the origin of meteorites, tektites, and lunar rocks and minerals.

Epstein was widely recognized for his scientific achievements. In 1976 he was elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the recipient of the Day Medal of the Geological Society in 1976, the Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society and the Wollaston Medal, both in 1977, and the Urey Medal of the European Association of Geochemistry in 1995. During 1978-1979 he served as president of the Geochemical Society.

From 1984 until his retirement in 1990, Epstein held the position of William E. Leonhard Professor of Geology at Caltech. He continued his productive scientific work in meteorite geology and past climate changes until his death on September 17, 2001.


36 linear feet (84 boxes)


The working papers, correspondence, scientific data, teaching and biographical material of Samuel Epstein form the collection known as the Samuel Epstein Papers at the California Institute of Technology Archives. Epstein had a distinguished career in isotope geochemistry, resulting in the development of the carbonate paleotemperature scale, as well as the publication of some pioneering papers with regards to the measurements of paleotemperatures and of the isotopic composition of water in the meteorological cycle. Epstein carried out important research on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, on isotope composition of hydrogen and oxygen in tree rings, and on the origin of meteorites, tektites, and lunar rocks and minerals.


The correspondence series contains both incoming and outgoing correspondence organized in alphabetically ordered folders.

Series 2 contains material that relates directly to the California Institute of Technology. This series is subdivided into Epstein's teaching material, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS) material, committees and reviews.

Epstein's manuscripts, preprints and reprints (Series 3), and his talks and conference meetings materials (Series 4) are arranged in chronological order and contain a wide variety of related documents, from graphs to notes to related correspondence.

Epstein's research files (Series 5) are subdivided into two categories: grant proposals and general research materials organized by research subjects and topics.

The technical files (Series 6) which make up over half the collection, contain mass spectrometer data books as well as laboratory notebooks of Epstein and his collaborators. Notebook numbering refers to the sequence of experiments.

The biographical section contains a small amount of biographical material.

Physical Location

Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to the Caltech Archives by Samuel and Diane Epstein in two installments. The first installment was donated by Samuel Epstein himself, on September 1996, and consisted of five storage boxes that were inventoried in 1998. Forty-three additional storage boxes were donated by Epstein's widow, Diane, on January 2002.

Related Material

Researchers should also refer to Epstein's oral histories, conducted in 1985-1986 by Carol Bugé, which are deposited in the Caltech Archives.

Finding Aid for the Samuel Epstein Papers, 1942-2002
Processed by Nurit Lifshitz.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the California Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections Repository

1200 East California Blvd.
MC B215-74
Pasadena California 91125 United States of America
(626) 395-2704