Supplementary catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Nevill Francis Mott CH FRS (1905-1996), physicist

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

Details of Mott
Reference: Mott
Title: Supplementary catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Nevill Francis Mott CH FRS (1905-1996), physicist

The papers in this supplementary collection cover the period 1902-2003. They should be consulted in conjunction with the Mott papers catalogued as NCUACS no 105/4/02.


Section A, Biographical, is by far the largest in the collection. There is additional material relating to Mott's autobiography, a major sequence of documentation of career, honours and awards, 1918-1996, including the Nobel Prize, and an almost complete sequence of appointment diaries, 1958-1996. The most substantial component of the section is Mott's family correspondence, 1922-1962. This is principally Mott's letters to his parents and provides indispensable documentation of his career from Clifton College school, Bristol to the Cavendish Professorship of Physics, Cambridge. The sequence includes Mott's undergraduate years at St John's College, Cambridge, 1924-1927, Copenhagen with Bohr in 1928, Manchester with W.L. Bragg, 1928-1929, Cambridge, 1930-1933, pre- and post-war Bristol and the Second World War. There are also sequences of correspondence from Mott's visits to Japan, 1953 and Africa, 1962. Biographical items of particular interest are drafts relating to his father's research at the Cavendish under J.J. Thomson and Ruth Mott's account of her and her husband's visit to Russia in 1934. There are also sequences of press-cuttings and a small number of photographs of Mott and scientific colleagues.


Section B, Lectures and publications, documents a small number of Mott's public and invitation lectures and shorter publications and writings. There is also a little publications correspondence, 1970-1995.


Section C, Societies and organisations, is slight, providing additional documentation of Mott's association with five British and international bodies, 1952-1995, including the Royal Society.


Section D, Visits and conferences, is slight, comprising single items representing six occasions, 1959-1993.


Section E, Religion, provides further documentation of Mott's developing interest in religion in his later years. There is correspondence, 1977-1996, an annotated draft of 'Christianity without miracles' Mott's own contribution for the book 'Can scientists believe?', shorter publications and writings, and sermons.


Section F, Correspondence, is slight. It is presented as a chronological sequence with scientific colleagues and others, 1963-1996.


There is also an index of correspondents. We are very grateful to Mrs Crampin for making the papers available and for information and advice.

Date: 1902-2003
Held by: Cambridge University Library: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, not available at The National Archives
Former reference in its original department: GB 0012 Mott papers
Language: English

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

Physical description: c230 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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