“If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” Isaac Newton. Letter to Robert Hooke, 1676.
In this quote, Newton acknowledged the importance of the work of his predecessors and contemporaries as a basis for his own scientific advancements. From the early days of academic publishing, scientists have published bibliographies which provide the reader with information about published works on which the new advance was based. However, for a combination of reasons, some of the key papers which form the basis of a number of fields are becoming difficult, or even impossible to access.
One barrier to access is disappearing print copies: libraries dispose of older journal issues to save space and to make room for new ones. Or, they abandon print entirely in favour of digital versions. Extensive efforts have been made to digitise the archives of scientific publications, however this is a costly and time consuming process. Many organisations choose a cut-off point before which the journal content is not digitised. The journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is very unusual in that it’s content is digitised right back to its first issue in 1665. The Journal of Physics series have followed this example and have digitised their full archive.
A second barrier is that of language. Over time English has become the lingua franca of science but this was not always the case and a multitude of important, historic scientific works were published in languages other than English. Many contemporary scientists dismiss work published in other languages, ascribing legitimacy only to work published in English language journals. The bias that this creates towards western scientists is already a cause for concern, but can also mean that important articles published in other languages are overlooked.
One article in danger of being lost, was the paper ‘Simmetriya energeticheskikh zon v kristallakh tipa vyurtsita. II. Simmetriya zon s uchyotom spinovykh vzaimodeistvii’ by Emmanuel Rashba and Valentin Sheka . This paper, published as a supplement in a Soviet-era Russian-language journal (Fizika Tverdogo Tela), forms the foundation for the modern field of spintronics and introduces what has become known as the Rashba effect.
Over the past two years, a collection of papers on the Rashba effect has been curated in New Journal of Physics by guest editors Gustav Bihlmayer (Peter Grünberg Institut and Institute for Advanced Simulation), Oliver Rader (Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie) and Roland Winkler (Northern Illinois University). In putting together this collection, the editors realised that it was nearly impossible to find a copy of this important first discovery. After considerable time they were able to obtain a scan of a photocopy of the article in the original journal. The journal still exists as Physics of the Solid State, but supplements have not been translated or digitised. The editors contacted Rashba who was keen that his original work be made available for the academic community. As an Open Access journal, New Journal of Physics was seen as an ideal conduit for this.
Bihlmayer, Rader and Winkler commissioned a translation of the article by Alpha Translation Services and then worked closely with Rashba to ensure that the translation was accurate. They also wrote an editorial which introduces the translation, as well as provides an overview of the development of the field since the publication of the article. Meanwhile, the journal team contacted the Editor-in-Chief of Physics of the Solid State, Alexander A Kaplyanskii (Russian Academy of Sciences), who agreed to allow publication of a translation of this article; and resolved the legal issues surrounding copyright for the translation.
The editorial has now been published and the translated article is available to download as supplementary information. The full Focus on the Rashba Effect collection can be found here and all articles were published open access and so are freely available for anyone to read and share.
Focus on the Rashba Effect
Focus issue guest edited by Gustav Bihlmayer, Oliver Rader and Roland Winkler, 2013-2015.
Advancement in Heusler compounds and other spintronics material designs and applications
Focus issue guest edited by Shigemi Mizukami and Alexander A Serga, 2015.
Future perspectives for spintronic devices
Topical review by Atsufumi Hirohata and Koki Takanashi, 2014.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
 E.I. Rashba, V.I. Sheka, Simmetriya energeticheskikh zon v kristallakh tipa vyurtsita. II. Simmetriya zon s uchyotom spinovykh vzaimodeistvii, Fizika tverd. tela, 1(2), 162-176 (1959)