Catalogue description Report on the papers of SIR RUDOLF (ERNST) PEIERLS, C.B.E., F.R.S. 1907-1995

This record is held by Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections

Details of CSAC 52.6.77
Reference: CSAC 52.6.77
Title: Report on the papers of SIR RUDOLF (ERNST) PEIERLS, C.B.E., F.R.S. 1907-1995

The collection, which consists almost entirely of correspondence written and received, covers all aspects of Peierls's career to 1974, including scientific research, service on committees, advisory boards, etc., publications, appointments, overseas visits and the like.


Because of his own highly distinguished scientific work and his knowledge of the world of physics in one of its heroic periods, his involvement with work on the atomic bomb during the Second World War and with disarmament and the Pugwash movement after it, Peierls has already attracted the attention of historians, and has given reminiscences and accounts of episodes in his life, on tape, radio, television, in print and by correspondence. Several of these have been brought together in a sub-section of Section A, items CSAC 52.6.77/A.16 - CSAC 52.6.77/A.28, and in CSAC 52.6.77/D.22 - CSAC 52.6.77/D.23. Other items not in the present collection are mentioned in Locations of other material below. Peierls's retirement from the Wykeham Chair was marked by a Symposium held in Oxford 11-12 July 1974. Correspondence with participants, and tapes of the talks and discussion, are contained, by courtesy of the organisers Dr. I.J.R. Aitchison and Dr. J.E. Paton, in CSAC 52.6.77/A.25 - CSAC 52.6.77/A.28, and include many personal and scientific recollections of Peierls and his career.


Compiled by: Jeannine Alton


Harriot Weiskittel

Date: 1923-1974

A. Biographical and personal CSAC 52.6.77/A.1 - CSAC 52.6.77/A.28


B. University and academic (at Birmingham and Oxford) CSAC 52.6.77/B.1 - CSAC 52.6.77/B.47


C. Scientific correspondence CSAC 52.6.77/C.1 - CSAC 52.6.77/C.359


D. Publications, broadcasts, reports CSAC 52.6.77/D.1 - CSAC 52.6.77/D.25


E. Conferences, symposia, invitation lectures, visits CSAC 52.6.77/E.1 - CSAC 52.6.77/E.35


F. Committees, Societies, Consultancies CSAC 52.6.77/F.1 - CSAC 52.6.77/F.50


Index to principal correspondents

Related material:



Retained by Peierls: (Peierls's own memorandum about this material is included in CSAC 52.6.77/A.1)


1. All papers dealing with matters after 1974.


2. Domestic, personal and family correspondence, some relating to his early career.


3. Some private papers relating to his professional life.


4. Taped lectures, viz: 4 Pauli Lectures given at Zürich; 4 lectures (3 tapes) on 'Physics and Philosophy' given at Oxford; 1 autobiographical talk given at Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford.


United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Harwell, Archives:


Reports, correspondence and a diary relating to work during the Second World War. When these papers are declassified they will join those already declassified in the Public Record Office, London (see Item CSAC 52.6.77/A.21). Some miscellaneous declassified reports appear in Item CSAC 52.6.77/D.24 of the present collection.


N.B. The texts of the two versions of the 'Peierls-Frisch Memorandum' on the feasibility and power of an atomic weapon have been published in:


Britain and Atomic Energy 1939-45, M.M. Gowing, Macmillan, 1964, pp.389-93.


Tizard, R. Clark, Methuen, 1965, pp.215-217 (fuller version).


Sources for History of Quantum Physics, University of California at Berkeley: taped interview (see Item CSAC 52.6.77/A.18).


Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, New York: taped interview (see Items CSAC 52.6.77/A.1 and CSAC 52.6.77/A.20).

Held by: Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Peierls, Sir, Rudolph Ernst, 1907-1995, theoretical physicist

Physical description: 544 files
Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received from Sir Rudolf Peierls in August 1974, after his retirement from the Wykeham Chair of Physics, Oxford University. They refer therefore only to his activities up to 1974.


Deposited in 1977

  • Physics
Administrative / biographical background:

Born 5 June 1907 in Berlin. Educated at a 'Gymnasium' (High School) in a Berlin suburb. On leaving school spent six months as a trainee technician in industry. Entered Berlin University in October 1925 as a student of physics. Transferred to University of Munich in October 1926 in the Department of Theoretical Physics (Professor A. Sommerfeld). In Spring of 1928 transferred to the Theoretical Physics Department at Leipzig University (Professor W. Heisenberg) and in Spring 1929 to the Federal Institute of Technology (E.T.H.) Zürich (Professor W. Pauli). D.Phil. 1929 Leipzig with dissertation on the thermal conductivity of non-conducting crystals; written under the supervision of Pauli. Autumn 1929 to autumn 1932 'Assistant' to W. Pauli. Autumn 1932 to autumn 1933 Rockefeller Fellowship held in Rome (E. Fermi) and Cambridge (P.A.M. Dirac, R.H. Fowler). 1933 to 1935 research in Manchester University supported by 'academic assistance' grant for German refugees. 1935 to 1937 research at Royal Society Mond Laboratory, Cambridge. 1937 to 1963 a Professor of Applied Mathematics, later changed to Mathematical Physics, University of Birmingham. 1963 to 1974 Wykeham Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Oxford and Fellow of New College.


1940 to 1945 work on atomic energy. Initially in collaboration with O.R. Frisch to point out the feasibility and power of an atomic weapon, and later on secondment to the British Government project to work on the theory of isotope preparation, and on questions involved in the size, design and efficiency of an atom bomb. Transferred to U.S.A. in 1943, first in New York in collaboration with the isotope separation research at Kellex, later at Los Alamos.


Research work includes quantum theory of solids of electro-magnetic fields and of the solid nucleus. Some of this was done jointly with L. Landau, H.A. Bethe, N. Bohr and others. Visits to other institutions include semester at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, a semester at Columbia University 1959, The Battelle Visiting Professorship at the University of Washington for two quarters in 1967, and subsequent shorter visits to the University of Washington in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1973.


Degrees: D.Phil. Leipzig 1929, D.Sc. Manchester 1935, M.A. Cambridge (ex officio) 1935, M.Sc. Birmingham (ex officio) 1937, M.A. Oxford (ex officio) 1963. Fellow Royal Society 1945, Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1962, Foreign Associate, American National Academy of Sciences 1970. Awarded C.B.E. 1946, Knighthood 1968. Royal Medal, Royal Society 1959. Lorentz Medal, Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences 1962. Planck Medaille, Association of German Physical Society 1963. Guthrie Medal, Institute of Physics and Physical Society 1968. Hon. Fellow, Institute of Physics 1974.


Founding member of the Atomic Scientists Association and member of their Council during its existence. Participant in the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. A member of Continuing Committee 1963 to 1974. Chairman of Continuing Committee 1970 to 1974.


Married in 1931. One son, three daughters.

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