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William Thompson Papers MSS 410
MSS 410  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Publication Rights

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William Thompson Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 410
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 9.6 Linear feet 23 archives boxes and 2 oversize file folders
    Date (inclusive): 1963 - 1995
    Abstract: Papers of William Bell Thompson, physicist, researcher, professor, editor, and administrator. Thompson did pioneering work in plasma physics and established the field at Oxford University and the University of California, San Diego. He did theoretical and applied work in controlled thermonuclear research and brought several of his other interests together with research on tethers in space. The papers document Thompson's career at UCSD and include correspondence, journal articles, reports, notes, lectures, grant proposals (1981-1991), teaching material, and subject files.
    Creator: Thompson, William

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The William Thompson Papers provide a representative selection of his work in physics as researcher, teacher, editor, and administrator, principally during his twenty-five years (1965-1990) with the Physics Department at UCSD. The material is arranged in eight series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, 2) CORRESPONDENCE, 3) WRITINGS, 4) LECTURES AND TALKS, 5) CONTRACTS, GRANTS AND PROPOSALS, 6) TEACHING MATERIAL, 7) SUBJECT FILES, and 8) FRAGMENTS AND UNIDENTIFIED MATERIAL.
    Most of the items in the BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL series relate to Thompson's academic career and include standardized forms and statements, reports on research and sabbatical activities. There are newspaper articles on his departure from the United Kingdom and an account of genealogical research into the Ginniff side of the Thompson family written by H. Stanley Thompson.
    The majority of letters in the CORRESPONDENCE series are from Thompson's graduate students and colleagues and date from the period 1980-1990. Thompson had worked under Leopold Infeld as a graduate student in Canada and later followed the news of Infeld's problems with the Canadian government, referred to in correspondence with Infeld's son. Leopold Infeld sent Thompson the satirical "Aftermath Script."
    The WRITINGS series is arranged in two subseries: A) Journal Articles, Reports and Papers; and, B) Notes.
    A) The Journal Articles, Reports and Papers subseries contains many of Thompson's research articles, review articles, book chapters, research reports, and unpublished papers, all interfiled alphabetically by title. Among these are numerous reports written for the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) in the United Kingdom. Chronological lists of Thompson's work at UCSD and for the AERE are located at the beginning of the subseries.
    B) The Notes subseries contains notes on lectures and conferences he attended, books and articles he read, and topics related to his research. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by title.
    Thompson gave presentations on his research and teaching interests to audiences of peers, students in disciplines other than physics, and the general public. These materials are arranged alphabetically by title and consist of outlines, notes, overhead transparencies, and texts.
    This series documents the core areas of Thompson's research in plasma physics and tethers in space. The material is arranged in six subseries: A) Cal Space/Martin Marietta, B) National Aeronautics and Space Administration, C) National Science Foundation, D) United States Atomic Energy Commission, E) United States Department of Energy, and F) Proposals. Spanning a decade (1981-1991), each subseries is arranged chronologically. Material in the first five subseries generally consists of a copy of the proposal, progress reports on research and correspondence. The final subseries, Proposals, contains drafts that were not submitted or not funded.
    The TEACHING MATERIAL series is arranged in two subseries: A) Course Outlines and Lecture Notes and B) Slides. The first subseries is arranged by course number and then chronologically. In addition to a range of physics courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, Thompson also taught in interdisciplinary programs making connections between science and current social concerns. The Slides, unlabeled, illustrate laboratory facilities, equipment and fusion reactors.
    The SUBJECT series contains Thompson's topical files on tethers, tsunamis, the Society for Scientific Exploration, and a conference entitled "Evaluation of Current Trends in Fusion Research;" he was an editor for the conference papers.
    Untitled fragmentary writings and notes, instructional material lacking course numbers and unassociated overhead transparencies are gathered in this series.


    William Bell Thompson was born February 27, 1922, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was trained at Canadian universities, receiving his B.A. in physics and mathematics in 1944 and his M.A. in physics in 1947 from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. In 1950 he received his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Toronto, Ontario, and went to England to take up an appointment as Senior Fellow in the Theoretical Physics Division at Harwell, the laboratory of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. When a separate facility, Culham Laboratory, was set up for fusion studies, Thompson moved there and remained until his election to the Chair of Theoretical Plasma Physics at Oxford University in 1963.
    Thompson first came to the University of California, San Diego, in 1961 as a visiting professor from Culham. In 1965 he was invited to join the new San Diego campus as a founding member of the Physics Department. He spent the next twenty-five years at UCSD, combining research, supervision of doctoral research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities; he was chairman of the department from 1969 to 1972. He retired in 1990.
    Thompson's career focused on the development of the theory of plasma physics and its applications in controlled thermonuclear research. He worked in the areas of magnetic fusion, magnetohydrodynamics, the calculation of transport coefficients, heating, instabilities, diffusion, relativistic kinetic theory, counterstreaming plasmas, resonances, toroidal systems and guiding center plasmas in two dimensions. He was also interested in other fields: terrestrial magnetism, planetary dynamics, antimatter, space science, and oceanography. He combined many of these areas in research projects on tethers.
    Thompson extended his commitment to teaching beyond his physics laboratories and classrooms. He gave talks and lectures to a range of audiences, participated in interdisciplinary seminars for undergraduates and wrote review articles for his colleagues in other areas of physics.
    William B. Thompson died in 1995.

    Preferred Citation

    William Thompson Papers, MSS 410. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available



    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Domínguez, Homero Jiménez
    Infeld, Leopold, 1898-1968
    Morrison, Philip J.
    University of California, San Diego -- Faculty -- Archives
    University of California, San Diego -- History -- Archives
    Physicists--United States--Biography
    Physics -- Study and teaching
    Plasma dynamics
    Tethered satellites