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From personal correspondence with Albert Einstein, 1947-1954
The complete papers of Samuel A. Goudsmit (1902-1978) have been digitally scanned and are now available for free download from the Niels Bohr Library & Archives of the American Institute of Physics (AIP). The trove of documents will offer historians and the public an unprecedented look at one of the twentieth century’s most notable physicists.
“It’s our most popular collection in our archives,” said Melanie Mueller, the assistant director of the digitization project. She added also that the wide diversity of subjects that Goudsmit touched on in his career makes it so sought after. “It’s a really good snapshot of his really diverse career.”
Goudsmit first made his mark on physics in 1925 when he along with George Uhlenbeck proposed the concept of electron spin. He helped set up the celebrated Michigan Summer School in Theoretical Physics at the University of Michigan, before moving to MIT during World War II to help develop radar. Towards the end of the war, he was named scientific chief of the allied Alsos project, which sought to determine how close the Germans got to developing their own atomic bomb.
After the war, Goudsmit took the position of senior scientist at the newly established Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1950 he also became the editor of Physical Review and helped propel the journal to the forefront of physics publications. In 1966, he became the first editor in chief of the APS. Goudsmit retired from Brookhaven in 1970 and from his editorial duties in 1974.
The compilation of documents spans his career from 1920 through his retirement. It includes drafts of his scientific papers, recovered scientific memos and documents from the Third Reich, academic notes and correspondences. Goudsmit was a meticulous record-keeper, often retaining copies of his own outgoing letters. The collection includes correspondences with such luminary physicists as Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, Max Born and Werner Heisenberg. Many of the documents are in German because of his work as head of the Alsos mission.
The primary purpose of the grant AIP received to help digitize the collection is to increase access to it. However because parts of the collection are now almost a century old, digitizing it will help preserve the collection.
“Folks have digital surrogates to look at so it reduces wear and tear on the collection,” Mueller said.
Comprising of over 69,000 documents, the original hard copies took up over 39 linear feet of shelf space. Digitizing the huge trove of papers took nearly two years to fully scan and sort and was supported by the American Institute of Physics and the U.S. National Historical Publications and Records Commission, part of the National Archives.
Before the scanning process began, AIP spent about six months prepping the documents; smoothing out all of the sheets by hand and removing any attached fasteners. Once all the prep work was finished, they send out the collection one box at a time to their contractors. After each box returned, they visually checked each document one by one to make sure the scans worked properly.
“It took a lot of work,” Mueller said. “It’s very satisfying to have it done.”
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Editor: Alan Chodos