Catalogue description Catalogue of papers and correspondence of Sir Nevill Francis Mott CH FRS

This record is held by Cambridge University Library: Department of Archives and Modern Manuscripts

Details of NFM
Reference: NFM
Title: Catalogue of papers and correspondence of Sir Nevill Francis Mott CH FRS

Section A, Biographical, is slight. It includes, however, drafts for his autobiography and a bibliography, albeit incomplete.


Section B, Research, principally comprises a sequence of published papers, pre-prints etc by other scientists annotated by Mott or occasionally by collaborators such as A.S. Alexandrov, 1946-1996 (bulk 1983-1996). In addition there are a very small number of notes and drafts by Mott and others, 1989-1996.


Section C, Lectures and publications, is the largest in the collection. Only a small number of Mott's public and invitation lectures are documented, 1964, 1986-1994 but there is a major sequence of drafts for his scientific publications, 1961-1996 which is especially substantial for his last years, though not always straightforward in its interpretation. Publications correspondence is not extensive and his long association with Taylor & Francis is represented by a relatively few papers, 1980-1996. There is a substantial but incomplete set of Mott's off-prints, 1929-1995.


Section D, Societies and organisations, documents Mott's association with eleven British and international bodies. His interests in nuclear weapons issues and defence questions more widely are reflected in the papers of the Oxford Research Group and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Although Mott was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1936 the record presented here covers the period 1976-1993 only, and relates almost entirely to his interests in science education.


Section E, Visits and conferences, documents a small number of such occasions attended by Mott in the United Kingdom and overseas for about twenty years from 1977 including invitations for 1996 and 1997 he was not able to fulfil. In addition to visits and conferences associated with Mott's scientific research there are records of a seminar on 'gifted' children at Cambridge, 1981 and the Second Nova Spes Colloquium of Nobel Prizewinners in Rome, November 1987 when Mott met the Pope.


Section F, Religion, documents Mott's developing interest in religion in his later years. There is correspondence, 1977-1996, including a small group of papers kept separately by Mott about the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng, and drafts for Can scientists believe?, Mott's shorter publications and writings, and sermons. Section G, Correspondence, presents a chronological sequence of correspondence, 1968-1996, reflecting Mott's continuing interest in research to the end of his life. It also includes correspondence and papers on energy questions, especially solar energy and photovoltaics. The sequence is predominantly incoming. There is also an index of correspondents.

Date: 1929-1996
Held by: Cambridge University Library: Department of Archives and Modern Manuscripts, not available at The National Archives
Former reference in its original department: NCUACS catalogue no. 105/4/02
Language: English

Mott, Sir Nevill Francis, 1905-1996, Knight, physicist

Physical description: 270 items
  • Physical sciences: Nuclear Physics
  • Christianity
Administrative / biographical background:

Nevill Francis Mott was born in Leeds on 30 September 1905. His father, Charles Francis Mott, who later became Director of Education of Liverpool, and his mother, Lillian Mary Mott née Reynolds, had been research students together under J.J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. Mott was educated at Clifton College, Bristol and St John's College, Cambridge where he studied mathematics and theoretical physics. After three years research in applied mathematics he was appointed to a lectureship at Manchester University in 1929.


He returned to Cambridge in 1930 as a Fellow and lecturer of Gonville and Caius College and in 1933 moved to Bristol University as Melville Wills Professor in Theoretical Physics. In 1948 he became Henry Overton Wills Professor of Physics and Director of the Henry Herbert Wills Physical Laboratory at Bristol. In 1954 he was appointed Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge, a post he held until 1971. Additionally he served as Master of Gonville and Caius College, 1959-1966. Mott's early research at Cambridge established his reputation in the application of the new ideas of wave mechanics to collisions of atomic particles. On moving to Bristol he left this field for that of metals and alloys, establishing an international reputation there too within a few years. Later he turned to research on semiconductors and insulators, and to problems concerned with the formation of a latent image in a photographic emulsion. During Mott's twenty-one years at Bristol his group occupied a position of great eminence in theoretical physics. War-related work during the Second World War was concerned with the propagation of radio waves and the explosive fragmentation of shell and bomb cases.


Mott's appointment as Cavendish Professor inevitably led to a greater involvement in administration both in the laboratory and the university and he assumed a number of positions nationally and internationally, both within the scientific community and more widely, for example, in the field of education. Nevertheless he remained active in research. The work for which he shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in the area of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems was begun in the 1960s, while in his final years he was engaged in investigations of high temperature superconductivity.


Not only was Mott one of the great theoreticians of the twentieth-century, his work in semiconductors and solid state physics had great practical implications, enabling improvements to be made to the performance of electronic circuits, including computer memories, and in making more efficient solar energy cells. In addition to a great number of scientific papers Mott was the author of a number of major books including The Theory of Atomic Collisions (with H.S.W. Massey, 1933), Electronic Processes in Non-Crystalline Materials (with E.A. Davis, 1971), Metal-Insulator Transitions (1974) and Conduction in Non-Crystalline Materials (1986). He also edited a volume of essays by scientists on religious belief Can scientists believe? (1991). In 1986 Mott published an autobiography A life in science. He was elected FRS in 1936 (Hughes Medal 1941, Royal Medal 1953, Copley Medal 1972; Bakerian Lecture 1953, Rutherford Memorial Lecture 1962, Humphry Davy Lecture 1988), and was awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physics (with P.W. Anderson and J.H. Van Vleck) 'for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems'. He was knighted in 1962 and made a Companion of Honour in 1995. In 1930 he married Ruth Eleanor Horder with whom he had two daughters. He died on 8 August 1996.

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