The insightful article by Linda Wang titled “Turning Off the Lights” focuses on the difficult process, physically and emotionally, for faculty to close down their laboratories (C&EN, Sept. 8, 2014, page 50). One newly minted emeritus faculty member, Al Padwa of Emory University, describes how “there are some things he just can’t bring himself to throw away yet . . . old photos and correspondence that date back many decades.”
In fact, perhaps those documents should never be sent to the dumpster. As I said in my guest editorial “Estate Planning,” correspondence including e-mails, drafts, literature searches, notes, and photographs may be important historical resources that should be saved, not thrown away (C&EN, Dec. 3, 2012, page 3).
Before you dump the underpinnings of your life’s work, speak with your institution’s archivist (or the archivist at the Chemical Heritage Foundation). Every year, chemistry’s heritage disappears in the rush to free up office space with the planned—and sadly, sometimes sudden and unanticipated—departure of senior scientists. I repeat: “As individuals and as a community, we must do estate planning of and for our own heritage.”
Jeffrey I. Seeman