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Maria Goeppert Mayer Papers
MSS 0020  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Mayer, Maria Goeppert, 1906-1972
    Title: Maria Goeppert Mayer Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1925-1973
    Extent: 4.50 linear feet (12 archives boxes and 1 oversize folder)
    Abstract: Papers of a Nobel Prize winning physicist and professor at the University of California, 1960-1964. The materials include general and family correspondence, and correspondence with physicists Hans Jensen and Edward Teller. Also included are reprints and writings of hers, as well as research notebooks, class lectures, and teaching materials from both the University of Chicago and the University of California, San Diego. The collection is arranged in seven series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) REPRINTS, WRITINGS AND LECTURES, 3) RESEARCH NOTEBOOKS AND CLASS LECTURES, 4) TEACHING MATERIALS, 5) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 6) NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS, and 7) SUBJECT MATERIALS. The addition processed in 1997 contains photographs, diplomas, certificates, and awards. The materials are arranged in two series: 1) PHOTOGRAPHS and 2) AWARDS, CERTIFICATES AND DIPLOMAS.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0020
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Maria Goeppert Mayer Papers, MSS 0020. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    Maria Goeppert Mayer was born on June 28, 1906 in Kattowitz, Germany, to Friedrich and Maria (nee Wolff) Goeppert. In 1910 she moved with her parents to Gottingen where her father taught pediatrics at the University. She enrolled at the University at Gottingen in the spring of 1924 with the expectation of pursuing a career in mathematics, but soon became attracted to physics and the developing field of quantum mechanics. In 1930 Mayer took her doctorate in theoretical physics under the direction of Nobel prize winners Max Born, James Franck, and Adolf Windaus.
    While completing her studies at Gottingen she met and married Joseph Edward Mayer, an American post-doctoral fellow working in physical chemistry under James Franck. Together they moved to Baltimore, Maryland where Joseph taught at the Johns Hopkins University. In 1939 they went to Columbia University. There Maria worked under the direction of Harold Urey at the S.A.M. (Strategic Alloy Metals) Laboratory which researched the separation of isotopes of uranium. She co-authored a text entitled STATISTICAL MECHANICS (1940) with her husband. After the war she took a professorship of physics at the Institute for Nuclear Studies, University of Chicago. During this period Mayer began a long correspondence with Edward Teller.
    In 1948, Mayer began work on nuclear shell structure and the meaning of the "magic numbers"- those nuclei that have a special number of protons. She postulated these numbers to be the shell numbers of a shell model, a "nuclear counterpart to the closed shells of electrons" at the atomic level. In 1950 she met and began a collaboration with Johannes Hans Daniel Jensen which led to the publication of the book entitled ELEMENTARY THEORY OF NUCLEAR SHELL THEORY (1955). In 1963, Maria Mayer was awarded the Nobel Prize jointly with Hans Jensen for their work on the Shell Model.
    Maria Goeppert Mayer came to the University of California, San Diego, in 1960 as a professor of physics. At San Diego she taught while conducting research in nuclear physics under grants administered by Keith Brueckner. During this period Mayer publically encouraged young women to pursue careers in the sciences. She was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Akademie der Wissenschafter in Heidelberg, and the Philosophical Society. After a protracted illness, she died on February 20, 1972.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Accession Processed in 1988
    Maria Mayer's papers contain a relative abundance of correspondence, much in German, with family members, professional colleagues, and admirers. In addition, her research notebooks provide a unique resource. Unfortunately, the collection largely lacks manuscript materials related to her numerous publications. The materials have been arranged in seven series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) REPRINTS, WRITINGS, AND LECTURES, 3) RESEARCH NOTEBOOKS AND CLASS LECTURES, 4) TEACHING MATERIALS, 5) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 6) NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS, and 7) SUBJECT MATERIALS.
    The CORRESPONDENCE is arranged in a number of subseries by provenance, with a general correspondence subseries, a family subseries, and letters from Edward Teller. Within the subseries, folders follow a chronological order. An index lists selected authors and the dates of each item (see Addendum 1).
    The Teller letters were probably written in the period 1939-1971 by Dr. Edward Teller, physicist, and "Father of the H-Bomb." Most of the letters are on plain paper, handwritten, and signed "Edward". A few are typed on letterhead from the University of Chicago, University of California (Berkeley), and a Santa Fe Post Office Box (Los Alamos). One letter was written in German, while the remaining letters are in English, and for the most part appear to have been written from hotel rooms or during transit on planes or trains.
    The letters were written against a background of national and international events: the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939; the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the War; the dropping of atom bombs on Japan in 1945; the political situation in the post war United States; the re-election of President Truman in 1948; the Klaus Fuchs exposure in 1950; the Soviet take-over of Hungary; the United States entry into the Korean War in 1950; and the investigation of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Director of the Manhattan Project.
    From this historical background, it is possible to assign tentative year dates to many of the letters. In a very few cases, a month has been added when a family event, for example a birth or death, has been mentioned. When the letters were received from the donor there was no apparent organization. They have now been organized into 16 folders by date. The general nature of these letters is purely personal. Although there are occasional references to particular physics problems in which Teller or Mayer was engaged, there are no detailed discussions of a scientific nature.
    There are innumerable references to mutual friends and physicists, their locations and activities. Occasionally, Teller mentions his wife Mici and his children Paul, Susan, and Wendy. Teller speaks about his family in Hungary. He discusses the condition of postwar Germany and of what might be done to get surviving scientists out and to the United States. He speaks of his great love for the Hungarian language and for Hungarian poetry and of his regret that Maria does not know that language. He takes note of place as well as time, speaking of walking by the Danube River, the beauty of New Mexico, and the climate of California.
    The great strength of the letters is the completely open way in which Teller writes about his hopes, fears, disappointments, and rages, his dissatisfaction with himself, his work habits, and his frequently stormy relations with fellow scientists. This is particularly true of the period 1946 when he was trying to choose between remaining at Los Alamos, returning to the University of Chicago, or accepting an offer from the University of California. It is also true of a later period, 1950, when the issue of the loyalty oath in California caused him to refuse a position as professor at the University. He expressed himself vigorously on this issue. Finally, there are no apparent direct references to his testimony before the Atomic Energy Committee in their enquiry into J. Robert Oppenheimer.
    Also contained in the CORRESPONDENCE are letters from Maria's dissertation advisor, Max Born, who emigrated to England before World War II. Most of his letters are of a personal nature, discussing the impending war with Germany, life in besieged England, and the affairs of mutual friends and colleagues.
    Within the REPRINTS, WRITINGS, AND LECTURES series reprint materials are organized chronologically, while "writings and lectures" by Mayer are alphabetized. "Writings by other authors" are also alphabetized. RESEARCH NOTEBOOKS were assigned arbitrary numbers and each reflects her descriptive subdivisions. The TEACHING MATERIALS are divided by institution. BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS are alphabetized by subject and include a subseries of photographs in chronological order. The NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS are accompanied by Addendum 3 and also follow a chronological order. Finally, the SUBJECT MATERIALS are alphabetized.
    Accession Processed in 1997
    Additions to the Maria Mayer Papers processed in 1997 contain photographs, awards, certificates, and diplomas of Maria Mayer. The materials are arranged in two series: 1) PHOTOGRAPHS and 2) AWARDS, CERTIFICATES AND DIPLOMAS.
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series contains a large group photograph of seated attendees to the Alfred Nobel Dinner in 1964, images taken of Maria in her UCSD office after the announcement of her Nobel Prize and a photograph album that documents her trip to Japan for "Women's Week in Japan." The photograph album was created as a memento by her Japanese hosts and contains numerous images of Mayer.
    This series contains Mayer's academic diplomas and certificates, as well as awards she received during her career.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Mayer, Maria Goeppert, 1906-1972 -- Archives
    Teller, Edward, 1908-
    University of California, San Diego. -- Dept. of Physics -- Archives
    University of California, San Diego -- History -- Archives
    University of California, San Diego -- Faculty -- Archives
    Nuclear shell theory
    Quantum theory
    Nuclear physics -- Study and teaching
    Physics -- Study and teaching
    Physicists -- Biography
    Manuscripts, German -- California -- San Diego
    Photographic prints -- 20th century.


    Bohr, Niels Henrik David, 1885-1962, -- correspondent
    Born, Max, 1882-1970, -- correspondent
    Jensen, Johannes, 1934- -- correspondent
    Revelle, Roger, 1909- -- correspondent
    Teller, Edward, 1908- -- correspondent