Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Thomas Lauritsen papers,
Date (inclusive): 1922-1974
Collection number: Consult repository
Lauritsen, Thomas, 1915-1973
9.5 linear feet.
California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Abstract: Professor of nuclear physics, California Institute of Technology,
1941-1973. Includes correspondence, proposals, monographs, research data, lecture
notes, conference, travel and course materials, materials relating to work with government
and professional organizations, e.g., the Atomic Energy Commission, National Academy of
Sciences, and the American Physical Society. Bulk of collection from after World War II.
Principal correspondent is Fay Ajzenberg-Selove; others include his father, C. C.
Lauritsen, Luis Alvarez, Hans Bethe, Niels and Aage Bohr, and William A. Fowler.
The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.
Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish
or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on
behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include
or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item, box and file number], Papers of Thomas Lauritsen. Archives, California Institute of Technology.
A portion of Lauritsen's papers were deposited in the Archives in 1974, a gift of Mrs.
Margaret Lauritsen. In 1975, additional boxes of Lauritsen's personal correspondence were
turned over to the Archives by Dr. Thomas Tombrello. Two boxes of letters of recommendation
were donated by William A. Fowler in 1974 and sealed for twenty years (opened 1994). Further,
in 1987 the Archives received Tommy Lauritsen's copy of the printed matter relating to the
This collection was processed by Susan Trauger in May 1981.
Updated by Charlotte E. Erwin in December 1999.
Thomas Lauritsen--or Tommy, as he was always called--was the son of Charles
Christian Lauritsen, one of Caltech's most prominent nuclear physicists. Tommy Lauritsen's
forty-one year association with Caltech began in 1932 when he entered the Institute to pursue his
undergraduate degree. Following the award of his PhD in 1939, he left Caltech for postdoctoral
study at what is now the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. He returned to Caltech in 1941 and
was appointed to the physics faculty in 1946. He served Caltech continuously until his untimely
death from cancer at the age of fifty-seven in October, 1973.
Aside from the war period, during which he was closely involved in the Caltech rocket
project for the U.S. Navy, Lauritsen's research activity was directed principally to experimental
investigations of the structure of atomic nuclei, with particular emphasis on the nuclides in the
first row of the periodic table, the light nuclei. Beginning in 1948, in collaboration with Fay
Ajzenberg-Selove, Lauritsen authored fourteen review papers which summarized current
knowledge about the light nuclei. He was much admired as a teacher of physics at Caltech and
co-authored with Richtmyer and Kennard the textbook
Introduction to Modern Physics (5th ed.,
In the last years of his career Lauritsen served the whole nuclear physics community. He
played a major role in writing the report of the Weneser Panel of the Physics Survey Committee
of the National Academy of Sciences. The Weneser report provided the first reliable and detailed
information on the level of funding, facilities, and trained workers in nuclear physics in the United
States. During the last two years of his life he was elected and served as Chairman of the Division
of Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society, a fitting honor to one who had worked to
found the division.
Scope and Content of Collection
The papers, which were donated to the archives by the Lauritsen family in 1974, span the
years 1922-1974, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1952-1973. The papers
consist chiefly of correspondence, course and lecture notes, conferences, and reprints. There is
correspondence with such prominent nuclear physicists as Thomas Bonner, D. Allan Bromley,
Serge Gorodetsky, E. H. Kennard, Walter Meyerhof, Ernest Titterton, and Denys Wilkinson. The
most extensive correspondence is with his collaborator of twenty-one years, Fay Ajzenberg-
Selove; as well as with those researchers associated with the Kellogg Laboratory: his father, C. C.
Lauritsen, William A. Fowler, Charles Barnes, Robert Macklin, Jerry Marion, and William
Hornyak; and with those at the Niels Bohr Institute with whom he collaborated over the years:
Niels and Aage Bohr, Jørgen Bøggild, K. J. Brostrøm, Torben Huus, and Aage Winther.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.
Ajzenberg-Selove, Fay, 1926-
Alvarez, Luis W., 1911-1988
Bethe, Hans Albrecht, 1906-
Bohr, Aage, 1922-
Bohr, Niels Henrik David, 1885-1962
Fowler, William A., 1911-1995
Lauritsen, Charles Christian, 1892-1968
American Physical Society
California Institute of Technology
National Science Foundation (U.S.)
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Nuclear physics--Study and teaching
World War, 1939-1945--War work. United States.
Genres and Forms of Materials
Related collections in the Caltech Archives include: the Papers of C. C. Lauritsen, the
Papers of William A. Fowler. Researchers should also consult the oral history and supplemental
oral history of William A. Fowler, conducted by the Caltech Archives; the oral history of
Margaret Lauritsen Leighton; and copies of two interviews of Thomas Lauritsen conducted by the
American Institute of Physics (B. Richman and C. Weiner, 1967), and by the China Lake Naval
Weapons Center (A. B. Christman, 1969).