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Ashcroft completed his undergraduate studies at the University of New Zealand (Bachelor 1958) received his PhD in 1964 from Cambridge University. He completed post docs at the University of Chicago and at Cornell University, where he became a Professor in 1975. In 1990 he was named the Horace White Professor of Physics, and was elected to emeritus status in 2006. He served as the director for the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics at Cornell University (1979-1984), the director for the Cornell Center for Materials Research (1997-2000), and as the deputy director for the High Energy Synchrotron Source (1990-1997).
His textbook on solid-state physics, written with N. David Mermin, is a standard text in the field.
- with N. David Mermin: Solid State Physics. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York NY u. a. 1976, ISBN 0-03-049346-3 .
- Cornell Physics faculty biography
- Smoluchowski, R. (January 1977). "Review: Solid State Physics by N. W. Ashcroft and N. D. Mermin". Physics Today 30 (1): 61–65. doi:10.1063/1.3037370.