June Photos of the Month: Summer Days

June Photos of the Month: Summer Days

It’s June, which means school is out, parks and beaches are open, and amusement parks are full of screaming children and melting ice cream. For physicists, like many of us, summer means traveling to summer conferences and symposia, visiting friends and colleagues, and spending time on the water. In this edition of Photos of the Month, we’re celebrating summer, so let’s dive in!

Summer Studies

Enrico Fermi standing on the far right of a boat, accompanied by five other men in swimsuits.

Enrico Fermi standing far right on the boat, others are unidentified. Possibly taken during the University of Michigan Summer School, Ann Arbor, MI. Circa 1930. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Fermi Film Collection; Catalog ID: Fermi Enrico D50 

One of the most influential summer gatherings for physicists in the 20th century was the Summer Symposia in Theoretical Physics at the University of Michigan. Held in Ann Arbor during the 1920s and 30s, the field’s greatest minds would gather every summer to give lectures, exchange ideas, and learn about the newest advances in theoretical physics. Enrico Fermi, pictured on the right above, was a regular attendee and gave a lecture at the Symposium on quantum electrodynamics in 1930. 

Norton Hintz, Harry Gove, and Ben Mottelson do handstands on the beach to demonstrate "spin down state." City buildings are visible in the background.

Left to right: Norton Hintz (Minnesota), Harry Gove (Rochester), and Ben Mottelson in 'spin down state' after lectures at Brookhaven Summer School. 1965. Credit: Photograph by Norton Hintz, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Hintz Collection; Catalog ID: Hintz Norton C1 

Another common locale for summer study was (and remains) the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Brookhaven, New York. The Lab is connected to several Nobel Prize winners, and many physicists have spent their summers studying there. Located on Long Island, the facilities are not far from the beach, so visitors can take advantage of the sun, sand, and surf, when they're not in the lab. Norton Hintz, above left, a nuclear physicist who taught at the University of Minnesota from 1952-1991, was fond of bodysurfing in Malibu, and presumably at other beaches.

Donald Clayton and Roberto Rosselini sit on concrete steps at the beach in Alghero, Sardinia.

Donald Clayton (left) and Roberto Rosselini (right) in June 1970 on the beach in Alghero, Sardinia, where they had traveled for a film-making conference in relation to a prospective film project (not made) about science. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Clayton Collection; Catalog ID: Clayton Donald C72

In addition to summer institutes and schools, summer is a popular time for conferences. Many people opt to attend conferences in desirable destinations, where they can roll work into a vacation. The Italian island of Sardinia is one such location, and in 1970, astrophysicist Donald Clayton and Italian filmmaker Roberto Rosselini travelled there for a conference while working on a project together in Rome. And it’s the rule that when you’re on an island in the Mediterranean, you have to spend at least half your time at the beach.  

Mark Bolsterli holds a black umbrella above Benita Geffen and Don Geffen at the Los Alamos Inn pool.

Mark Bolsterli holds an umbrella above Benita Geffen and Don Geffen at the Los Alamos Inn pool. July 1968. Credit: Photograph by Norton Hintz, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Hintz Collection; Catalog ID: Bolsterli Mark C1 

Apart from symposia and conferences, many physicists travel during the summer to visit different research facilities, or to interview for new jobs. Theoretical physicist Mark Bolsteri, above left, taught at the University of Minnesota with fellow physicist Don Geffen, above right, until 1969, a year after this photo was taken (by none other than bodysurfer Norton Hintz, from earlier). Bolsteri left Minnesota to work in the theoretical physics division of the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1969, but Geffen remained. Were they traveling together for work when this photo was taken? Was Bolsteri already considering a move to New Mexico? We may never know. At least Geffen’s wife Benita practiced safe sunning.

Summer Travel

Masahiro Wakatani and Akira Hasegawa sit around a table with their wives and children.

Masahiro Wakatani and family visit with the Hasegawa family in New York. Summer 1985. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives; Catalog ID: Wakatani Masahiro D5 

Of course, summer is a time for leisure travel, too. In 1985, Japanese plasma physicist Masahiro Wakatani brought his family with him to New York when he came to visit his fellow physicist Akira Hasegawa, who was working at Bell Labs and Columbia University. Two years before this visit, Wakatani and Hasegawa had derived a set of equations (known as the Hasegawa-Wakatani equations) to describe a particular phenomenon in plasma physics. It isn’t clear whether this 1985 visit was for business or pleasure, but it’s nice to see the two families sharing a meal and enjoying each other’s company. 

Andy Szymkowiak, Megan Urry, and their daughter sit on the beach in Hawai'i

L-R: Astrophysicists Andy Szymkowiak and Megan Urry sit with their daughter on a beach in Hawai'i. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Gift of Dr. Meg Urry; Catalog ID: Urry C Megan G4 

I think one of the benefits of being an astronomer or astrophysicist is getting to use telescopes as an excuse to go to Hawai’i. In addition to its marvelous beaches, hiking, and food, Hawai’i is home to twenty-eight observatories, making it a prime destination for people who want to do some professional stargazing (apologies to the astronomers, I know your job is more than stargazing). Married astrophysicists Dr. Meg Urry and Dr. Andy Szymkowiak took their family to Hawai’i in 2007, perhaps to visit some observatories, or perhaps to celebrate Dr. Urry’s historical achievement: that summer, she became the first woman to chair a department in the physical sciences at Yale when she took over as chair of the Physics Department.  

Summer Homes

Henry Barton with his infant daughter Joan splash in the waves in a lake

Henry Barton with eldest daughter Joan in Caspian Lake, Greensboro, Vermont. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Barton Collection; Catalog ID: Barton Henry G10 

Some people dream of having a summer home, where they can escape from the daily grind and enjoy time outdoors with family. Henry Barton was the first director of the American Institute of Physics from 1931-1957, then Associate Director until 1963. This was when AIP was headquartered in New York, and the Bartons had a vacation home in Greensboro, Vermont. Family photos show the Bartons spent a lot of time outdoors when they visited Vermont, and it must have been refreshing to play in the lake during the summer. Upon his death, Barton left the land in Vermont to his daughters, Joan and Jenneke, who in turn donated it to land conservancy efforts. (AIP is now in College Park, MD, which would make a Vermont summer home much less practical.) 

John Wheeler looks at his wife Janette. Both are laughing.

John Archibald Wheeler and his wife Janette Wheeler outdoors at their summer home in High Island, Maine. Circa 1984. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Spicer Collection; Catalog ID: Wheeler John Archibald G7 

John Archibald and Janette Wheeler also had a summer home in the Northeast. A biographical memoir written by Kip Thorne, a former student, describes how Wheeler, who is credited with coining the term “black hole,” often sought to get away from his daily life in Princeton to think more clearly or focus on his work. In 1957, the Wheelers bought half of High Island, Maine, a 66-acre island in Long Cove. They spent most of their summers there and John often invited students and colleagues to join them for discussions and collaborations. I can only imagine such visits were full of laughter, as captured in this photo. 

Summer Daze

Aage Winther lounges on a float in a lake, smoking a pipe.

Aage Winther floats on an inflatable lounge while smoking a pipe in Christmas Lake, Minnesota. Summer 1961. Credit: Photo by Norton M. Hintz, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives; Catalog ID: Winther Aage B1 

I’ll close with this photo of Aage Winther lazing on a float. Winther worked with the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen (no relation to the Niels Bohr Library & Archives) throughout his career and was one of the main people who helped craft the modern theory of nuclear reaction. But we all need a break sometimes, right? May you too find time this summer to be as carefree as a man on a lake smoking a pipe.  


About the Author

Elizabeth Wood

Arthur Roberts at recording session for Atoms For Peace, 1964.

Elizabeth Wood

Elizabeth Wood is an Archivist at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, working mainly with the AV and media collections. She holds a bachelor's degree in music from James Madison University, an M.A. in ethnomusicology from UC Riverside, and an MLIS from UCLA. She spends her time outside of work reading, going on walks, and wrangling her toddler. One of her favorite items in the collection is Songs About Physicists by Arthur Roberts and the chorus of the State University of Iowa Physics Department. 


Caption: Arthur Roberts, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, at a recording session for music he composed for a film on the 1964 Atoms for Peace Conference. The musician is from the Chicago Symphony. AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, George Tressel Collection

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