Physics in the Family

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December 20, 2019

Physics in the Family

December Photos of the Month

Hello, everyone, and happy December!

American comedian George Burns once said, “happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” Throughout my childhood and adult life, this time of year has always been about spending time with and thinking of my relatives and loved ones, near and far. So, for our December Photos of the Month, I’ve chosen to explore some images of physicists who saw science as a family affair.

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Robert (left) and Frank (right) Oppenheimer as young boys. 

Credit: Frank Oppenheimer, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Here are brothers Robert and Frank Oppenheimer when they were children. Robert grew up to famously become the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory and a leading physicist on the Manhattan Project. Frank, his younger brother, also made a career for himself in physics, working with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge Laboratory, University of Minnesota, and later, the University of Colorado. Both men were later involved with the Association of Los Alamos Scientists (ALAS), a group which gathered “to promote the attainment and use of scientific technological advances in the best interests of humanity."

The records of ALAS, which I’m sure are quite interesting, can be found at the University of Chicago archives! Check out the finding aid here: https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL....

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Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber and her son, Alfred Goldhaber. 

Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

This is a photo of Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber and her son, Alfred. I love this one because Gertrude Scharff and Alfred weren’t the only physicists in the family. After meeting at the University of Berlin, Gertrude and her husband, Maurice, fled the Holocaust and spent the majority of their physics careers at University of Illinois (though Gertrude was not paid for much of her work here) and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Their son, Alfred, is now a Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University and their grandson, David Gordon-Goldhaber is a physics professor at Stanford University! Maurice’s brother, Gerson, was a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, too. Altogether, they form three generations of physicists. I wholeheartedly recommend reading more about this fascinating family of scientists! 

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Niels and Aage Bohr.

Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Margrethe Bohr Collection

Here is the renowned father and son physicist duo, Niels and Aage Bohr. Although I can’t tell you what formulas they are working out on this blackboard, I do know that I love the look of this beautiful black and white photo! If you are interested in learning more about the Bohr family, we have several oral history interviews in the archives which can help you do just that (check them out: https://www.aip.org/history-programs/oral-histories/search?search_api_vi...)!

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Marie Curie and her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie.

Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, William G. Myers Collection

Another physics super-family: the Curies! Shown here is Marie Curie and her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, working with lab equipment. Pierre Curie, husband to Marie and father to Irene, is also a well-known physicist. Irene married physicist, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, and their children Hélène Langevin-Joliot and Pierre Joliot also chose careers in the sciences! Hélène Langevin-Joliot then married Michel Langevin, grandson of Paul Langevin. Her son Yves later became… you guessed it! A physicist! I think we need to draw up a family tree to get all this straight.

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That’s all for this month! Thanks, as always, for joining me in exploring these wonderful photos. I’ll be back in 2020 to share more Emilio Segrè Visual Archives images with you! Until then, I challenge you to show some love to a family member (legally related or otherwise- after all sometimes we find familial love and care in our other relationships, and those count, too!), and to make the most of this season! I know the end of the year can be a stressful time for many, but I hope you'll find the time to practice self-care and enjoy yourselves!

 

If you’d like to subscribe for Photos of the Month e-mail notifications, you can do so here: https://www.aip.org/history-prorgrams/niels-bohr-library/photos/esva-subscribe

 

About the Author: 

Samantha Holland is the AV & Media Archivist. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in humanities with a concentration in English from the University of Hawai’i- West Oahu and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Maryland, College Park. One of her favorite books in the collection is The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo. 

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