I am trying to find the paper "The resistance of pure mercury at helium temperatures" by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. It was published in the Communications from the Laboratory of Physics at the University of Leiden in 1911.

This is the first publication of the discovery of superconductivity and it is cited in many texts dealing with the subject. However, I was unsuccessful in finding the actual content of the paper with the methods: My university's library catalogue, Google Scholar and Google. I even tried the catalogue of Leiden University, but no luck there either.

Due to the significance of the paper and the fact that Leiden University still exists, I am fairly certain that the paper is not lost completely and I am just unable to find it.

Are there any other resources I can use to get ahold of this paper?

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    Ask a librarian. This is literally their job.
    – iayork
    Aug 13, 2019 at 18:18
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    @iayork: Indeed, "ask a librarian" ought to be considered one of the "usual methods". Aug 13, 2019 at 19:00
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    @iayork Oh right, that's what those are for. Will do.
    – schtandard
    Aug 13, 2019 at 19:05
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    Check if your library is part of an inter-library loan system. Our ILL system is partly automated, and I get about 80% of requests back in a few days or so.
    – wwarriner
    Aug 14, 2019 at 5:59
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I would be very surprised if it was in German, since Kamerlingh Onnes was Dutch and publishing in a Dutch venue...
    – Kyle
    Aug 14, 2019 at 15:13

8 Answers 8


In the future, your university librarians are MADE for this! Don't feel ashamed to ask -- there are librarians more into archiving and cataloging, and some more into education and service.

Give as much information as you currently have, and they'll find it for you AND/OR show you how to find it yourself in the future (if it's accessible via a resource like some of those mentioned above.)

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    +1 for "ask the librarian". Which he kinda did since some of them are lurking here in academia.se
    – Mindwin
    Aug 15, 2019 at 13:21
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    +1. I recently did this, but felt a little reluctant to "impose" on someone. However the librarian was fairly adamant that tracking things down was not only part of his job, but also one of the fun parts (at least for him). He was also crazy good at it--I had a pdf within a few hours, after unsuccessfully trying to track it down for a few weeks on my own.
    – Matt
    Aug 15, 2019 at 22:46
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    I am an MLS dropout (I wanted to complete, but depression...argh) anyway -- there were the stereotypical introverts who wanted to hide -- they go into archival work, or databases, or do lots of essential stuff that dealt more with the materials and processes. Then there were those of us who wanted to be more focused on Instructional librarianship (I had been an adjunct for ages), or learning commons, or outreach -- we were the front-of-house ones like you encountered, @Matt. It's like Tech Crew and Actors -- both sides needed to run a show. Aug 16, 2019 at 14:07

Why donʼt you contact the Leiden Universityʼs library for advice? Iʼm sure that the library has a copy of it, and they might have translations as well.

The author seems to be very prolific, the library has many pieces of his work listed on their online catalog.

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    "The author seems to be very prolific, the library has many pieces of his work listed on their online catalog." Yes, this is to be expected of a Nobel prize winner, not?
    – BrtH
    Aug 13, 2019 at 18:53
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    Sure! I had no idea who the author was. I just offered a workaround to find the paper. :)
    – onpre
    Aug 13, 2019 at 19:10
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    That was close. Going by the name "Heike," I assumed a female and was going to correct you on your pronouns. "Heike" in Germany today is an exclusively female name. Apparently, that doesn't apply to the Netherlands one hundred years ago. Fortunately, I looked the person up on Wikipedia first.
    – JRE
    Aug 14, 2019 at 9:30
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    @JRE Just going by "Heike", I would've assumed the author is part of an old samurai clan: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tale_of_the_Heike
    – Kimball
    Aug 14, 2019 at 12:07
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    The first point of call should actually be OP's home library - the librarian at OP's home institution should be able to manage procuring the article from Leiden. That's one of their primary functions.
    – J...
    Aug 14, 2019 at 16:54

A reprint of the paper is available under DOI 10.1007/978-94-009-2079-8_15, the complete title is "Further experiments with liquid helium. C. On the change of electric resistance of pure metals at very low temperatures etc. IV. The resistance of pure mercury at helium temperatures."

I was able to find this by excluding the author's given name; this expands the search to include repositories that only track given names by the first initial.

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    While this is a handy solution for the specific paper, this doesn't really address the general question about methods for finding papers - how did you locate this DOI, for instance?
    – Dancrumb
    Aug 14, 2019 at 14:18
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    @Dancrumb, fair enough. I originally wanted to leave it as just a comment, but figured it'd be more useful as an answer. My process: I knew that Heike Kamerlingh Onnes is usually referred to as just Kamerlingh Onnes. Googling "The resistance of pure mercury at helium temperatures" Kamerlingh Onnes gave this reprint as the first result. Since no-one had given the correct paper yet, I gave it here. Interestingly, Googling for "The resistance of pure mercury at helium temperatures" Heike Kamerlingh Onnes does not find the paper, which I suspect is what @schtandard did.
    – BrtH
    Aug 14, 2019 at 15:35
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    @BrtH thanks for expanding; I took the liberty of making an edit to your answer that covers this... I think it's very instructive to note that removing the author's given name significantly improved the search results.
    – Dancrumb
    Aug 14, 2019 at 16:21

This is a use-case for Sci-Hub, an open collection of papers from various journals. In this particular case, you can find your paper right here. Note that using Sci-Hub to access copyrighted materials which they do not have permission to give you is illegal in certain jurisdictions. Otherwise, it's legal to download.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 15, 2019 at 13:46
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    Actually, I wasn't able to locate the paper on sci-hub using just the title given. Can you elaborate a bit on how to choose the appropriate search string?
    – einpoklum
    Aug 16, 2019 at 16:59
  • @einpoklum In my experience, Sci-Hub works best with DOI and other unambiguous identifiers. Using titles is likely to lead you nowhere. And also note that old papers are often simply absent from their database.
    – Ruslan
    Oct 23, 2019 at 15:11

You can find the paper in this PDF.

This page says that the "Communications from the Laboratory of Physics at the University of Leiden" from June 1898 onward, were included in the Proceedings of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW), whose website is this one.

If you search the publications by author, the results for Kamerlingh Onnes contain the top link.

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    ... and to discover the "this page" mentioned at the start of Massimo's second paragraph. Step 1: look in the Wikipedia biography of Onnes, which gives the abbreviated title "Comm. Phys. Lab. Univ. Leiden" for the journal of first appearance; step 2: Google for Comm. Phys. Lab. Univ. Leiden, which provides Massimo's "this page" as the second hit in the web results. Jan 10, 2021 at 16:35

I checked Delft University Library, as it's the largest library for technical works in the Netherlands. They indeed have Communications from the Physical Laboratory of the University of Leiden., volumes 18 (1895) through 216 (1931).

They also note that additional copies exist at Leiden University Library itself and various other Dutch universities.


To expand upon the answer by BrtH, the paper (or rather, a reprint of the paper) is one of the first results when you google "The resistance of pure mercury at helium temperatures" (quotes not necessary); googling would generally be considered a usual method, but I imagine when you did that you thought this paper was not the one you were looking for because of the title ("Further experiments with liquid helium. C. On the change of electric resistance of pure metals at very low temperatures etc. IV. The resistance of pure mercury at helium temperatures"). Thus, I suppose the only method you'd need to apply next time is to carefully consider if the work you are looking for has an alternative title.


I don't know whether it works for this specific paper, but with old papers like this that are out of copyright, I have had some luck on The Internet Archive (https://archive.org/). If you're familiar with the Wayback Machine (which keeps old web pages), that's one part of the Internet Archive. Another part is a repository of many old books, and some libraries do upload scans of old journals that are out of copyright. I've had roughly a 50-50 hit rate looking for old papers, perhaps a little higher - at least when given several attempted searches in each case, e.g. to allow for issues with different ways of recording journal names and so forth.

[Note that you want the lower of the two search bars -- the top one is for the Wayback Machine. They're clearly labelled but it's easy to miss that you need the lower one. More than once I've caught myself typing a search in the wrong place.]

The quality may be rather mixed, sometimes excellent, sometimes poor -- but you may also get multiple libraries uploading scans of different parts of a journal's run so with a little luck you may have several scans of a given paper to choose from.

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