Samuel A. Goudsmit Papers Are Available Online

The Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics (AIP), is pleased to announce that it has completed digitizing the complete Samuel Goudsmit Papers (1921–1979, 30 linear feet, approximately 67,000 images) and mounting them on the Web at

The papers are a major international collection of correspondence, research notebooks, lectures, reports, World War II science documents, and other material of Goudsmit (1902–1978) a Dutch physicist who spent his career in the U.S. and was involved at the cutting edge of physics for over 50 years. It contains especially strong sources on the development of quantum physics in Europe and its spread to the U.S. during the first half of the century; German efforts to develop an atomic bomb during World War II, post-war physics research, and scientific publishing. Because of its breadth and depth it is the most used collection in AIP’s Library & Archives.

Goudsmit was a prolific letter writer and a conscientious collector who saved letters (often including copies of his outgoing correspondence) and other documents from his student days through the end of his career. He was born in the Netherlands and studied theoretical physics at the University of Leiden under Paul Ehrenfest. His discovery of electron spin in 1925 with fellow student George E. Uhlenbeck represents his signal scientific contribution. In addition, he conducted other important research over his career, and he received a variety of honors and awards, culminating in the top U.S. science prize, the National Medal of Science.

Upon completing his doctorate in 1927, Goudsmit settled at the University of Michigan. In 1928 he helped establish the famous Michigan Summer Schools in Theoretical Physics, which were taught by Goudsmit, other European-trained faculty, and by guest lecturers including luminaries like Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Ehrenfest, and Fermi. The Summer School was the first program of its kind on theoretical physics in America, and it played a critical role in introducing American scientists to quantum physics.

In 1941 Goudsmit left Michigan to go to the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where radar was perfected during World War II, and from 1944 to 1946 he was detailed to the War Department as Chief of Scientific Intelligence of the Alsos Mission. The mission moved with the advancing Allied forces in Europe to investigate the state of the German research projects to develop an atomic bomb and to capture both relevant documents and the scientists who participated. Goudsmit’s extensive Alsos Mission files are invaluable in understanding German atomic bomb research and have been used by many historians.

The last chapter of Goudsmit's career began after the war when he accepted two iconic positions, editor of the Physics Review, then emerging as the preeminent physics journal, and research director at the brand-new Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1966 he also became Editor-in-Chief of the American Physical Society. His postwar files broaden to embrace both the new high-energy physics research at Brookhaven and the entire spectrum of Cold War physics. Goudsmit retired from Brookhaven in 1970 but retained his editorial duties until 1974.

In summary, the Goudsmit Papers, and especially his rich correspondence, document the mainstream of physics research from the 1920s through the mid-1970s. The project to digitize the Goudsmit Papers took two years and was partially supported by the U.S. National Historical Publications and Records Commission.


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