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Hannes Alfven Papers
MSS 0225  
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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: Alfven, Hannes, 1908-
    Title: Hannes Alfven Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1945-1991
    Extent: 12.00 linear feet (30 archives boxes)
    Abstract: Papers of Hannes Olof Gosta Alfven, Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist who contributed to significant advances in the fields of magnetohydrodynamics, plasma physics, geophysics, thermonuclear reaction, and cosmology. He shared the Nobel Prize for Physics with Louis Neel in 1970. Alfven developed many controversial theories explaining the behavior of interstellar magnetic fields, debunking the "big bang," and attempting to rewrite the history of the solar system. Though initially ignored or rejected, many of his ideas were later extremely influential in revolutionizing the disciplines of astrophysics and geophysics. He was also an advocate of nuclear armaments destruction, working actively with other scientists such as Harold Urey to prevent nuclear proliferation and conflict. Among Alfven's teaching positions were posts at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, and the University of California, San Diego. The papers span the years 1945 to 1991 and are organized into ten series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) WRITINGS, 3) CORRESPONDENCE, 4) PUGWASH, 5) COMMITTEE ON SOLAR-TERRESTRIAL RESEARCH, 6) SUBJECT FILES, 7) GRANTS, 8) TEACHING MATERIALS, 9) MEETINGS AND SYMPOSIA, and 10) PHOTOGRAPHS. The collection contains significant correspondence with Alfven's fellow scientists, including Gustaf Arrhenius, C.G. Falthammar, and Harold Urey, as well as substantial photographic documentation of Alfven's studies of the solar system. The collection focuses primarily on Alfven's time as Professor of Applied Physics at the University of California, San Diego, but nearly every work from his immense bibliography is represented, many in draft forms. Absent from the collection is any extensive documentation of Alfven's personal life.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0225
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Hannes Alfven Papers, MSS 0225. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    Hannes Olof Gosta Alfven was born in Norrkoping, Sweden, on May 30, 1908, of parents who were both practising physicians. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Uppsala in 1934 and served as Professor of Electronics (1940-1964) and Professor of Plasma Physics (1964-1973) at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. Since 1967, he served as Professor of Applied Physics at the University of California, San Diego, spending six months of the year at UCSD and six months at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.
    For his research in magnetohydrodynamics and plasma physics, Alfven shared the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics with Louis Eugene Felix Neel. He was a Foreign Associate Member of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), a member of the Akademia Nauk (the former Soviet Union), and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1971, he was awarded the Franklin Gold Medal by the Franklin Institute as well as the Lomonosov Gold Medal, the highest award given by the then U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, for "outstanding achievements in plasma physics and astrophysics." Alfven was also a member of the Swedish Science Advisory and served as president of the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs.
    Alfven often published his original work in relatively inaccessible journals. His book, COSMICAL ELECTRODYNAMICS appeared in 1950, followed by ORIGIN OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM (1959) with C.G. Falthammar; COSMICAL ELECTRODYNAMICS, FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES (1963); WORLDS-ANTIWORLDS: ANTIMATTER IN COSMOLOGY (1966); THE TALE OF THE BIG COMPUTER (1968) under the pen name of Olof Johannesson; ATOM, MAN AND THE UNIVERSE (1969); LIVING ON THE THIRD PLANET (1972) with his wife, Kerstin Alfven, and STRUCTURE AND EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM (1975) with Gustaf Arrhenius.
    More than ninety-nine percent of the matter in the universe is in the form of a plasma, that is, a gas consisting of electrically charged and neutral particles. Under special conditions, magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) can be used to study plasmas. Hannes Alfven pioneered the development of MHD, the study of the motion of an electrically conducting fluid interacting with magnetic fields, and, in particular, the subject of plasma physics, the branch of MHD in which the fluid under study is a highly ionized gas consisting of nearly equal numbers of positively and negatively charged particles. Alfven was chiefly concerned with plasmas in stars, in the geomagnetic field, and in interplanetary and interstellar space, but his theories were basic to the study of laboratory plasmas encountered in the development of controlled thermonucelar fusion. More specifically, Alfven applied his analyses to such phenomena as geomagnetic storms, the aurora, the Van Allen radiation belts, sunspots, and the evolution of the solar system. His results have been seminal not only in designing thermonuclear reactors, but also in the development of astrophysics, space science, and geophysics. Despite (or perhaps because of) his major advances in the realm of nuclear physics, Alfven was outspoken in his warnings against the dangers associated with nuclear energy and nuclear bombs, and devoted much of his last years to working toward international conflict resolution and peace strategies.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Accession Processed in 1996
    Papers of Hannes Alfven, scientist, Nobel Prize recipient in the field of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and author. Alfven pioneered theoretical research in the field of magnetohydrodynamics, the study of the interaction of conducting fluids and magnetic fields, for which he received the 1970 Nobel Prize in physics with Louis Neel. The materials in this collection relate primarily to Alfven's work at UCSD and include correspondence, manuscripts, class materials, published and unpublished papers, notes and computations, photographs, and subject files. The collection is divided into ten series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) WRITINGS, 3) CORRESPONDENCE, 4) PUGWASH, 5) COMMITTEE ON SOLAR-TERRESTRIAL RESEARCH, 6) SUBJECT FILES, 7) GRANTS, 8) TEACHING MATERIALS, 9) MEETINGS AND SYMPOSIA and 10) PHOTOGRAPHS.
    This series is arranged alphabetically and contains substantial biographical as well as bibliographical materials from the principal stages of Alfven's professional career. Also included are various award certificates and a comprehensive file of correspondents and fellow scientists.
    This series is divided into two subseries, "Writings of Alfven" and "Writings of Others," both of which are arranged in alphabetical order. Almost all of Alfven's better-known monographs and publications are represented in progressive draft forms, some with original computations and related charts and figures. Highlighted in the first subseries is the great extent to which Alfven collaborated with diverse and eminent scientists on projects which expanded traditional scientific thought. The second subseries is comprised solely of papers written by others which were annotated by Alfven. This series, in addition to showing Alfven's wide array of political and scientific interests, illustrates his strong critical engagement with students and peers.
    This series is divided into two subseries, "Correspondence" and "Chronological Files." The first subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and the second subseries is organized chronologically. The "Correspondence" subseries profiles the astounding range and quantity of correspondents with whom Alfven exchanged ideas and efforts. Significant correspondence with groups connected with nuclear disarmament as well as with people such as Ralph Nader is combined with ample correspondence with scientists such as Harold Urey, G. de Vaucouleurs, Gustaf Arrhenius, and Per Carlqvist. The "Chronological File" subseries also contains the chronological files of Asoka Mendis, a close associate of Alfven who often sat in for him during his time at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
    This series dates from 1970 to 1974 and is arranged chronologically. Of significance are files concerning Alfven's role as president, and documents relating to the 21st Pugwash Conference at Sinaia, Romania in 1971.
    This series spans the years 1970 to 1985 and is organized in chronological order. Included are publications of CSTR, a transcript from their international symposium in Leningrad, May 1970, ample research from the special Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, and the minutes of several meetings in which Alfven played an important role.
    The Subject Files are arranged alphabetically. Some of the larger files include: Alfven Waves, Alfven's Critical Velocity Effect as tested in space at the Max Planck Institute, Amnesty International, Energy, Food and Disarmament International, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.
    This series, dating from 1969 to 1989, is arranged chronologically, and presents documents and manuscripts of scientific projects for which Alfven was the principal investigator or co-principal investigator. All grants presented in this series were awarded by either NASA or the National Science Foundation.
    This series is arranged chronologically and covers the years 1969 to 1989, during which Alfven was a professor at UCSD. The majority of classes are offered under one of two headings: Applied Physics and Information Science, and Electrical and Computing Engineering. The bulk of the material in this series consists of special departmental lecture notices and Alfven's transcribed lectures.
    This series is arranged in alphabetical order, beginning with a large record of all known conferences to which Alfven accepted the invitation to speak. The wide range of Alfven's social and intellectual committments is evinced by his significant contributions to symposia such as "Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission Hearings," "Plasma Astrophysics," and "International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies."
    This series is organized into three subseries: Images of Alven, Group Photographs, and General Photographs. Each subseries is ordered alphabetically.
    Books and journals received in the 1992 accession of the Hannes Alfven Papers have been separated from the collection and added elsewhere to the library's holdings. To identify and list these items, conduct an author search in ROGER on the term "Alfven, Hannes former owner."

    Indexing Terms

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


    Alfven, Hannes, 1908- -- Archives
    University of California, San Diego -- Faculty -- Archives
    Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research
    Controlled fusion
    Magnetohydrodynamic waves
    Nuclear arms control
    Physics -- Study and teaching
    Physicists -- Biography
    Plasma waves
    Photographic prints -- 20th Century.


    Akasofu, Syun Ichi, -- correspondent
    Anderson, Victor C., -- correspondent
    Arp, Halton, -- correspondent
    Carlqvist, Per, -- correspondent
    Johanson, Gunnar, 1951- -- correspondent
    Kopal, Zdenek, 1914- -- correspondent
    Lehnert, B. -- (Bo), 1926- -- correspondent
    Pauling, Linus, 1901- -- correspondent
    Peratt, Anthony L. -- correspondent
    Urey, Harold Clayton, 1893- -- correspondent
    Vaucouleurs, Gerard Henri De, 1918- -- correspondent
    York, Herbert F. -- (Herbert Frank), -- correspondent