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Johannes Martinus Burgers papers

 Collection 0373-UA

Johannes M. Burgers (1895-1981) was a Dutch mathematician and physical scientist who held a variety of scientific positions in the Netherlands before emigrating to the United States in 1955. In the U.S. he held the position of research professor at the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics, later the Institute for Physical Science and Technology, at the University of Maryland, College Park, from 1955 until his retirement in 1965. Burgers' papers document his life and career subsequent to his arrival in America and include research and lecture notes, and drafts of publications, as well as extensive correspondence. The files chronicle Burgers' work in the fields of gas dynamics and plasma physics, among others, and also reflect his continued interest and participation in scientific conferences after retirement.


  • 1912-1981

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


48.25 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Johannes M. Burgers Papers cover the period 1912 to 1981. The collection reflects Burgers' academic interests and activities as well as his curiosity about fields unrelated to his own. Approximately one-fourth of the collection consists of correspondence. Burgers' papers also include research and lecture notes, publication drafts, information pertaining to professional meetings, Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics (IFDAM) materials, photographs, and slides.

The papers primarily reflect Burgers' activities subsequent to his immigration to the United States. Although Dr. Burgers brought selected materials representing his career in the Netherlands to this country, the preponderance of his pre-1955 papers remain in the Netherlands and have been deposited at the Royal Netherlands Academy (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie).

Permission to publish material from the unpulished papers of J.M. Burgers must be obtained from the Burgers family.


Johannes Martinus Burgers was born in Arnhem, Netherlands, on January 13, 1895, the eldest son of Joanna Hendrika Romijn and Johannes Martinus Burgers. Both Johannes and his younger brother, Wilhelm, who later became a professor at the Technical University of Delft, attended primary and secondary school in Arnhem. Johannes completed his secondary schooling in 1912 and for the next two years took supplementary courses in Latin and Greek, while continuing his studies in higher mathematics and aspects of theoretical physics. He attended the University of Leiden from 1914 until 1917, passing his "candidates examen" in 1915 and his "doctoral examen" in 1917. Burgers became a Doctor of Mathematical and Physical Sciences in 1918, writing a thesis entitled "Het Atoommodel van Rugherford-Bohr" (The Model of the Atom according to Rutherford and Bohr).

Burgers' first position was Conservator at the Physical Laboratory of Teyler's Foundation (Teyler's Stichting) in Haarlem. From September 1918 until October 1955, Dr. Burgers was professor of Aerodynamics and Hydrodynamics at the Technical University of Delft. He was also secretary of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Shipbuilding from 1921 to 1924 and its chairman from 1929 to 1931. In this position, Burgers became acquainted with Theodore von Karman, L. Prandt, R. von Mises, G.I. Taylor and W.F. Durand, and maintained contact with the most influential individual of his university career, Paul Ehrenfest. It was during this period at Delft that he became a leading authority on fluid dynamics. He worked extensively on the theory of turbulence and explored what came to be known as the Burgers equation. He also wrote fundamental papers on the intrinsic viscosity of suspensions.

Resigning in 1955, Burgers and his wife, Anna, immigrated to the United States and settled in Maryland. Johannes had accepted the position of research professor at the Institute for Physical Dynamics and Applied Mathematics (now the institute for Physical Science and Technology) at the University of Maryland's College Park Campus. Burgers continued his interest in fluid dynamics while at the University, and was recognized for his studies in gas dynamics, plasma physics, shock waves, and related phenomena. Still active in his field, Burgers retired from the University of Maryland in 1965.

A member of more than twenty scientific societies, author of numerous articles and reviews, and recipient of two honorary degrees from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles (1948) and the Universite de Poitiers (1950), Burgers also received the Modesto Panetti Medal and Prize from the Accademia delle Scienze di Turino in 1961.

After his retirement, Burgers continued to maintain his considerable correspondence, attended scientific conferences and congresses and wrote two texts, Experience and Conceptual Activity and Flow Equations for Composite Gases. Deeply interested in philosophical ideas as well as scientific ones, he studied such fundamental issues as the influence of science upon society, the structure of the universe, and the origin and proper description of life. Johannes Burgers died in 1981 at the age of eighty-six, well-recognized in his field both as an author and professor. The Burgers Program for Fluid Dynamics, which is supported by faculty from the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and the A.J. Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, was created to provide an environment and precedence for knowledge exchange and networking within the fluid dynamics community on the University of Maryland campus. This program maintains a close collaboration with the J.M. Burgers Centre in The Netherlands.


This collection is organized as twelve series:

Series 1
Personal Information
Series 2
Series 3
Publication Correspondence
Series 4
Articles, Papers, Reports and Proposals
Series 5
Texts and Important Articles
Series 6
Lectures, Addresses, and Seminars
Series 7
Symposia, Conferences, and Congresses
Series 8
Notes and Figures
Series 9
Areas of interest
Series 10
Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics and other University of Maryland Files
Series 11
Burgers' Reprints and Miscellaneous Publications
Series 12
Photographs and Slides

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Mrs. Anna Burgers, widow of Dr. Burgers, donated the collection to the University of Maryland in 1981. Dr. Jan Sengers donated additional materials in 2006.

Related Material

Additional Johannes Burgers papers are located at the J. M. Burgers Centre in Delft, Netherlands. An inventory to their holdings is also available in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library. In addtion, an exhibit showing memorabilia of Johannes Burgers, such as medals, awards and books, is located in room 1116 of the Institute for Physical Science and Technology (IPST) building on the University of Maryland, College Park campus.

Processing Information

Martin Collins, a student studying the history of science, began the processing of the collection in 1982-1983 under the auspices of the Institute for Physical Science and Technology, which also provided financial support for the initial stages of the project. Betsy Parkin, A history and library science student, continued Collins' work and completed the arrangement and description of the papers.

Initially, a box inventory of the collection was completed, pulling all duplicate materials, removing paper clips and staples where possible, and replacing original folders with acid-free folders. After establishing a general order, the series were developed and defined, following the original order of the papers as much as possible. The materials were reorganized and jumbled files sorted into existing series. Reprints that were not written by Burgers or did not directly relate to Burgers' research, as well as transparencies, and most photographs of unidentified graphs and wave patters were discarded. Periodicals currently held by the University of Maryland College Park Libraries were discarded (see Appendix A); others were placed in Series 11. The papers originally held numerous requests for reprints of which all but a random sampling were discarded. The slides and remaining photographs were isolated and placed in the final series with separation sheets marking their original locations. Finally, all folders were labeled, boxed and the guide written. Only folders containing materials in Dutch have been marked (**); however, the collection also contains materials in Russian, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

A small amount of correspondence was added to the collection in 2006.

Guide to the Johannes Martinus Burgers Papers
Processed by Martin Collins and Betsy Parkin.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742