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Guide to the Papers of Thomas Lauritsen, 1922-1974
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Collections

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Thomas Lauritsen papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1922-1974
    Collection number: Consult repository
    Creator: Lauritsen, Thomas, 1915-1973
    Extent: 9.5 linear feet.
    Repository: 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.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item, box and file number], Papers of Thomas Lauritsen. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

    Acquisition Information

    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 Oppenheimer cases.

    Processing History

    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., 1955).
    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.

    Indexing Terms

    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--Congresses
    Nuclear physics--Research
    Nuclear physics--Study and teaching
    World War, 1939-1945--War work. United States.

    Genres and Forms of Materials

    Lecture notes
    Reprints (publications)



    Related Collections

    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).