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   Department of Physics Historical Records, 1862-1997 [Bulk Dates: 1906-1957]

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Department of Physics Historical Records; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


This collection of various historical materials collected by the Columbia University Physics Department includes photographs and negatives of faculty members, faculty biographical information, images of related buildings and grounds, correspondence between faculty members and others, publications, information concerning guest lecturers in the department, as well as materials used in exhibitions and presentations depicting the department's history.

At a Glance

Call No.:UA#0200
Bib ID:10650114 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Columbia University. Department of Physics.
Title:Department of Physics Historical Records, 1862-1997 [Bulk Dates: 1906-1957]
Physical description:2.29 linear feet (5 document boxes, 1 half-size document box)
Language(s):Material is in Chinese, English, French, German, and Latin
Access: This collection is located on-site. This collection has no restrictions.  More information »



Material is arranged into three series:

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Scope and Content

The material in this collection was primarily collected by Irene Tramm, the Departmental Administrator of the Columbia University Physics Department in the late 1980s and early 1990s, for the creation of a local exhibition on the history of the department, and for information compiled into a publication “A Brief History: The Columbia University Physics Department.”

It is a random assortment of historical material, consisting of photographs, negatives, faculty and guest lecturer correspondence, biographical materials for some of the faculty, programs from various lecture series given at Columbia, publications, picture postcards, and even a sheet of commemorative postage stamps.

Series I: Columbia University Department of Physics, 1905-1992

This series contains materials generally associated with activities of the Department of Physics. Materials include exhibition labels, histories of the department, photographs, correspondence, catalogs, event planning documents, correspondence, and some departmental records. Of particular interest are press releases and photographs concerning the original cyclotron in Pupin and its removal in 1965.

Series II: Individuals, 1862-1997

This series consists of materials related to individual faculty members and other individuals with ties to the Department of Physics, usually as a guest lecturer. Materials include original correspondence between prominent physicists from within and outside the Columbia University community, photographs, negatives, notes, and lecture announcements. Files are arranged alphabetically by last name of the individual. Much of the correspondence from these individuals is with Dean George B. Pegram. Of particular interest are two notebooks of George B. Pegram from when he was a student at Columbia in 1899 as well a notebook of lectures by Professor McCullogh as transcribed by Peter A. Jay in 1862. Files containing correspondence have date ranges noted; those with just photographs are almost always undated.

Series III: Publications, 1881-1999

This series consists of copies of published books and brochures maintained by the Department of Physics over the years. Some books that came in the original accession have been added to the rare books collection at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Books that were found to be housed in other parts of the Columbia Libraries were returned to the Department in summer 2014.

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Using the Collection

Access Restrictions

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Department of Physics Historical Records; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Finding aid online folder level control

Selected Related Material -- at Columbia

Central Files, University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Historical Biographical Files University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Historical Subject Files University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Archives; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Records processed 2014 Linda Arthur, SEAS 2014 under the direction of Jocelyn Wilk

Finding aid written May 2014 Linda Arthur, SEAS 2014

Finding aid edited June 2014 Jocelyn Wilk

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion August 28, 2014 Finding aid written in English. Finding aid adheres to that prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    2014-08-28 xml document instance created by Adrien Hilton

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Black and white photographs.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Commemorative postage stamps.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Negatives (photographic).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Picture Postcards.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Printed ephemera.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Slides (photographs).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
American Physical Society.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bethe, Hans A. (Hans Albrecht), 1906-2005.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bjerknes, V. (Vilhelm), 1862-1951.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bohr, Aage.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bragg, William Henry, 1862-1942.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bragg, William Lawrence, Sir, 1890-1971.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University.--Department of Physics.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University.--Faculty.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Cooper, Leon N. (Leon Neil), 1930- .PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Debye, Peter J. W. (Peter Josef William), 1884-1966.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ehrenfest, Paul, 1880-1933.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Fermi, Enrico, 1901-1954.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Fitch, Val L., 1923- .PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Gell-Mann, Murray.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Hahn, Otto, 1879-1968.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Hallock, William, 1857-1913.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Kusch, Polykarp, 1911-1993.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lamb, Willis E. (Willis Eugene), 1913-2008.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Langmuir, Irving, 1881-1957.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lederman, Leon M.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lorentz, H. A. (Hendrik Antoon), 1853-1928.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Los Alamos (Calif.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lummer, O. (Otto), 1860-1925.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Manhattan Project (Organization).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Mayer, Maria Goeppert, 1906-1972.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Millikan, Robert Andrews, 1868-1953.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Nobel Prize.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pegram, George Braxton, 1876-1958.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Penzias, Arno A.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Perrin, Jean, 1870-1942.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Physics--Study and teaching.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Planck, Max, 1858-1947.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pupin, Michael, 1858-1935.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Quimby, Shirley L.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Rabi, I. I. (Isidor Isaac), 1898-1988.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Rainwater, Leo James.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ramsey, Norman, 1915-2011.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Rubbia, Carlo, 1934- .PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schawlow, Arthur L., 1921-1999.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schwartz, Melvin, 1932-2006.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schwinger, Julian, 1918-1994.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Serber, R. (Robert).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Sommerfeld, Arnold, 1868-1951.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Steinberger, J.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Szilard, Leo.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ting, S. C. C. (Samuel Chao-chung), 1936- .PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Townes, Charles H.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Urey, Harold Clayton, 1893-1981.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Weinberg, Erick J.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Wick, G. C. (Gian Carlo).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Wien, W. (Wilhelm), 1864-1928.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Wu, C. S. (Chien-shiung), 1912-1997.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Yukawa, Hideki, 1907-1981.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Historical Note

The Department of Physics was formally established in 1892, although the roots of graduate physics can be traced to the opening of the School of Mines in 1864. The department awarded its first PhD to Robert Millikan who was later awarded the Nobel Prize, as have many faculty and graduates of the department, establishing, from very early on, a prestigious tradition of physics education and research at Columbia University.

The central figure in the early years of the Department was Michael Pupin, who contributed substantially to new discoveries involving X-rays and to the continued understanding and applications of electromagnetism. He served as Department Chair for many years. Under his impressive leadership, the present Pupin Laboratory was completed in 1925 to serve as the home of the Physics Department. After his death in 1935, the building was named for him. The Department still resides in this building.

A few years later, in 1899, the American Physical Association was founded at Columbia, a society that is still very active today, followed by the creation of the Earnest Kempton Adams Fund for Scientific Research. This fund allowed Columbia to invite distinguished scholars, such as Max Planck and H.A. Lorentz, to the University to give lectures.

Over the next few decades, the Department of Physics played a significant role in the development of relativity and quantum mechanics, and the subsequent discoveries made possible with this new understanding of physics.

I.I. Rabi, a Columbia graduate student in the 1920's, was very interested in the new Quantum Mechanics being developed primarily in Europe. After completing his degree, he received a fellowship to spend a few years in European laboratories. On his return to Columbia, he spearheaded successful efforts to put Columbia, and the U.S., at the forefront of scientific research.

In the early to mid-thirties, nuclear physics became wildly popular as fission was theorized and later proved. Wishing to be at the forefront of the nuclear boom, the Department built the Pupin Cyclotron and started smashing atoms. As the U.S. involvement in World War II became a reality, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt requisitioned an atomic bomb, and the Manhattan Project, led by several members of the Department of Physics, was started in the basement of Pupin Laboratory.

After World War II the Columbia Physics Department continued its diverse research in the areas of quantum electrodynamics, microwave techniques, high energy physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, atomic and condensed matter physics. Notable post-war faculty included James Rainwater, Charles Townes, T.D. Lee, C.S. Wu, and Horst Stormer.

The diversity of scientific opportunities that now exists at Columbia has grown out of a long and distinguished tradition of physics teaching and research. Columbia graduates, along with many other scientists who spent their formative years here, have gone on to make extraordinary contributions to science as researchers, teachers, and intellectual leaders.

(Material used in this history note was adapted from the Department of Physics History found at

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