Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JOHN FRANK ADAMS FRS (1930-1989)

This record is held by Cambridge University: Trinity College Library

Details of NCUACS 26/2/91
Reference: NCUACS 26/2/91
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JOHN FRANK ADAMS FRS (1930-1989)

SECTION A BIOGRAPHICAL J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/A.1 - J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/A. 19


SECTION B RESEARCH J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/B.1 - J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/B.173


SECTION C LECTURES J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/C.1 - J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/C.708


SECTION D PUBLICATIONS J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/D.1 - J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/D. 15


SECTION E CORRESPONDENCE J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/E.1 - J F Adams NCUACS 26.2.91/E.299


The collection is particularly noteworthy for its coverage of Adams's lectures, research and incoming correspondence.


Section A, Biographical, is not substantial. It includes a little material of Adams's relating to his own career including three Bedford School notebooks and his PhD thesis, and material assembled by I M James during the preparation of his Royal Society memoir.


Section B, Research, provides extensive documentation of Adams's research from the 1950s until his death. It is presented in an alphabetical sequence arranged by subject title.


Section C, Lectures, is the largest in the collection. Two subsections comprise Adams's lecture notes and other teaching material for courses given at Manchester and Cambridge, and material from conferences and seminars attended by Adams throughout the world including drafts of Adams's contributions and notes of contributions by others. A third subsection consists of Adams's ms notes found in filing cabinet drawers labelled 'Other people's lectures'. It includes notes taken by Adams as an undergraduate at Cambridge in 1949.


Section D, Publications, is very slight. It includes drafts of a few of Adams's scientific papers.


Section E, Correspondence, contains virtually no extended exchanges of correspondence as very few copies of Adams's own letters survive. There is, however, significant correspondence from colleagues such as M F (later Sir Michael) Atiyah, M G Barratt, P J Hilton, I M James and S MacLane, sometimes extending over a period of twenty or thirty years.


Where reference is made within this catalogue to (Bibliog. no...) researchers should note that this reference refers to file NCUACS 26/2/91/A2 'List of Publications'.




We are very grateful to Dr C B Thomas and Professor I M James for making the material available, and to Professor J H Davenport, University of Bath, for comments on the draft catalogue.

Date: 1949 - 1989
Held by: Cambridge University: Trinity College Library, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Adams, John Frank, 1930-1989, scientist and mathematician

Physical description: 145 series, 1211 files
Access conditions:










Custodial history:

Compiled by Timothy E. Powell and Peter Harper


The papers were received in March 1990 from the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, Cambridge University, through the good offices of Dr C B Thomas. Additional material assembled during the preparation of the Royal Society memoir of Adams was received from Professor I M James FRS in December 1990.

Publication note:

For a full account of the life and career of Adams see the memoir by I M James (Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 36, 1990).

  • Mathematics
Administrative / biographical background:



John Frank Adams was born in Woolwich on 5 November 1930. He was educated at Bedford School and won an Open Scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge in 1949 where he studied mathematics.


Following his graduation he began research at Cambridge, initially under A S Besicovitch then under S Wylie, and received his PhD in 1955. Adams was appointed to a Junior University Lecturership in 1955 and was a Research Fellow at Trinity College Cambridge 1955-58. He spent 1957-58 studying at the University of Chicago and at Princeton as a Commonwealth Fellow.


On his return to Cambridge Adams was appointed Fellow, College Lecturer and Director of Studies in Mathematics at Trinity Hall, posts held until 1962 when he took up a Readership at Manchester University. In 1964 Adams succeeded M H A Newman as Fielden Professor of Pure Mathematics there.


In 1970 Adams returned to Trinity College Cambridge as a Fellow when he was appointed to the Lowndean Chair of Astronomy and Geometry in succession to Sir William Hodge, a position he held until his death in January 1989.


Adams's most important area of research was in homotopy theory. He developed the algebraic system known as the Adams Spectral Sequence and did pioneering work on cohomology operations in K-theory. In 1965 he introduced the Adams conjecture (now the Adams theorem) into the study of K-theory.


His outstanding achievements in mathematics were recognised by his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1964 (while still only 34) and the award of the Society's Sylvester Medal in 1982. Adams was also elected a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences and an Honorary Member of the Royal Danish Academy; in 1986 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Heidelberg.

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