AIP's Niels Bohr Library Makes Goudsmit Papers Available Online
Papers document history of frontier physics research
College Park, MD, July 26, 2011 — The Niels Bohr Library and Archives of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) has digitized and released online the complete papers of renowned physicist Samuel A. Goudsmit (1902-1978).
The papers, which occupy 39 linear feet of shelf space in the library and contain approximately 69,000 images, are now published on the library's website at: http://www.aip.org/history/nbl/collections/goudsmit/.
The papers are a major international collection of correspondence, research notebooks, lectures, reports, World War II science documents, and other material of Goudsmit, a Dutch-born physicist who spent his career in the United States and was at the forefront of physics research for more than 50 years. The collection contains especially strong sources on the development of quantum physics in Europe and how it spread to the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Among the resources in the collection are reports of German efforts to develop an atomic bomb during World War II, post-war physics research, and important milestones in scientific publishing. Because of their breadth and depth, the Goudsmit papers are the most used onsite collection in AIP's Library and Archives.
Goudsmit was a prolific letter writer and a conscientious collector who saved letters (often including copies of his outgoing correspondence) and other documents from his student days through the end of his career. He was born in the Netherlands and studied theoretical physics at the University of Leiden under Paul Ehrenfest. His discovery of electron spin in 1925 with fellow student George E. Uhlenbeck represents his most significant scientific contribution. Goudsmit conducted other important research during his career and received a variety of honors and awards, culminating in the top U.S. science prize, the National Medal of Science.
Upon completing his doctorate in 1927, Goudsmit settled at the University of Michigan. In 1928 he helped establish the highly respected Michigan Summer Schools in Theoretical Physics, which were taught by Goudsmit, other European-trained faculty, and guest lecturers including luminaries like Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Ehrenfest, and Enrico Fermi. The Summer School was the first program of its kind on theoretical physics in America, and it played a critical role in introducing American scientists to quantum physics.
In 1941 Goudsmit left Michigan to go to the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where radar was perfected during World War II. From 1944 to 1946, he was detailed to the War Department as Chief of Scientific Intelligence of the Alsos Mission. The mission moved with the advancing Allied forces in Europe to investigate the state of the German research to develop an atomic bomb, and to capture both relevant documents and the scientists who participated in those programs. Goudsmit's extensive Alsos Mission files are invaluable in understanding German atomic bomb research and have been used by many historians.
The last chapter of Goudsmit's career began in 1948 when he accepted the first of two iconic positions, senior scientist at the brand-new Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he served as chair of the physics department from 1952 to 1960. In 1950 he became editor of Physical Review, then emerging as the preeminent physics journal. In 1966 he also became the first editor-in-chief of the American Physical Society. His postwar files broaden to embrace both the new high-energy physics research at Brookhaven and the entire spectrum of Cold War physics. Goudsmit retired from Brookhaven in 1970 but retained his editorial duties until 1974.
The Goudsmit Papers document the mainstream of physics research from the 1920s through the mid-1970s. The project to digitize the Goudsmit Papers took two years and was partially supported by the U.S. National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
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