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Victor Frederick Weisskopf papers

Identifier: MC-0572

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

Victor Frederick Weisskopf’s papers include correspondence, meeting agendas, minutes, reports, papers, newspaper clippings, audio tapes and cassettes, films, research notes and calculations, draft manuscripts, lecture and reading notes, and photographs and slides.

The papers document Weisskopf’s professional and personal life from the 1920s through 2002. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1960s through the early 1990s, reflecting his role as a physicist, educator, administrator, and advocate of social and political causes. While his activities before the 1960s are less fully represented, the collection includes materials from his early scientific career that provide insights into his educational background and research interests and projects. His professional collaborations and personal contacts with major people in the field of quantum physics are also documented. An extensive set of records documents Weisskopf’s relationship with CERN, mainly from the period when he served as a member of the CERN Scientific Policy Committee (1966-1977). His role as the chair of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel - HEPAP (1967-1973) is also well covered in the collection.

There are no original materials related to Weisskopf’s work at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project. Most of the records pertaining to his administrative activities as chair of MIT’s physics department and the head of the Center for Theoretical Physics are not included here; as MIT records they remained with the department. His engagement in scientific, social, and political issues is documented mainly in materials gathered in Series 6 (Organizations and Conferences) and Series 10 (Policy, Science, and Education Working Files). Extensive sets of records, included in Series 9 (Research Working Files) and Series 11 (Writings and Presentations), pertain to his research activities and interests as they evolved over a time span of more than seventy years.


  • Creation: 1922 - 2002


Language of Materials

The material is primarily in English. In addition there are materials in German, Danish, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and Chinese.

Access note

Portions of this collection must be reviewed to identify any restricted material before access can be granted. Please submit your requests at least ten business days before your desired visit to allow time for this review. An archivist will respond within five business days to let you know whether your requested material is open. For complete information on this policy, see our Statement on Accessing Institute Records. Restrictions and materials requiring review are noted in the finding aid.

Digital Access Note

Some parts of this collection are available online. Links to specific online digital items are found within their entry in this finding aid.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.


1908 September 19
Born Vienna, Austria
1927 to 1928
Studies at Vienna University
Earns PhD from University of Gottingen, Germany
2002 April 22
Died, Newton, Massachusetts

Professional Experience

Works with Werner Heisenberg, Leipzig, Germany
Works with Erwin Schrödinger, University of Berlin, Germany
1932 to 1933
Works with Niels Bohr at Bohr's Institute in Copenhagen and with P. A. M. Dirac at Cambridge University, England, with grant from Rockefeller University
1934 to 1936
Instructor in technology (works with Wolfgang Pauli), Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland
1936 to 1937
Research Associate, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
1937 to 1939
Instructor, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York
1939 to 1945
Assistant Professor, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York
1943 to 1946
Group Leader and Associate Head, Theory Division, Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, New Mexico
1945 to 1946
Associate Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1946 to 1965
Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1961 to 1965
Director General, CERN, Geneva, Switzerland
Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1967 to 1973
Head, Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1974 to 2002
Institute Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Advisory Positions

Co-founder, Federation of Atomic Scientists
Member, Emergency Committee of Scientists
Attends the First Pugwash Conference, Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada
Vice President, American Physical Society
President, American Physical Society
1966 to 1977
Member, CERN Pauli Committee
Member, CERN Scientific Policy Committee
1967 to 1973
Chair, High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, US Atomic Energy Commission
1976 to 1979
President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Fellow, Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Biographical Note

Victor Frederick Weisskopf was born in Vienna, Austria, on September 19, 1908, to Emil and Martha Weisskopf. After attending the gymnasium, where he joined a socialist student group and worked with the Social Democratic Party (Kaiser 2007, pp. 45-46), Weisskopf began to study physics at the University of Vienna. In 1928, following a recommendation by Hans Thirring, one of his professors in Vienna, Weisskopf went to Göttingen to continue his studies with Max Born. He received his Ph.D. in 1931 based on his work on the application of quantum theory to the width of spectral lines.

During his early research career Weisskopf continued working on the basic problems of quantum physics, first with Werner Heisenberg in Leipzig, where he went in the fall of 1931, followed by a brief period spent as a temporary research associate of Ernest Schrödinger in Berlin. In the summer of 1932 Weisskopf went to Kharkov, Soviet Union, where he lectured at the Physico-Technical Institute. A year-long Rockefeller Foundation grant, received in the fall of 1932, allowed him to join Niels Bohr and his group in Copenhagen, and Paul Dirac in Cambridge, England. For two years, between 1934 and 1936, he held the position of research associate to Wolfgang Pauli at the Institute of Technology in Zurich. His last appointment in Europe was again with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, where he worked from April 1936 to September 1937.

In the fall of 1937, to escape the growing Nazi threat, Weisskopf immigrated to Rochester, New York, where he was an instructor and then an assistant professor at the University of Rochester. From 1943 to 1946 Weisskopf served as deputy chair (with Hans Bethe as chair) of the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos.

His decades-long association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began in 1945 when, recruited by Jerrold Zacharias, Weisskopf joined the faculty of the physics department, where he resumed his scientific research and assumed teaching duties as a professor of physics. In 1965 he was named Institute Professor, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. During that period, from 1967 through 1973, he served as the head of the Department of Physics and played a role in the formation of the Center for Theoretical Physics. From 1974 until the end of his life Weisskopf held the titles of Institute Professor Emeritus and Professor of Physics Emeritus.

In addition to his scientific work, teaching, and administrative duties at MIT, Weisskopf played a major role in setting directions of research in high energy particle physics both in the US and in Europe. In 1960 he was invited to serve as the director general of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), a position he assumed in 1961 and held through 1965. Upon his return to the US, he became heavily involved in the efforts leading to the creation of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel of the Atomic Energy Commission and served as its chair from 1967 through 1973.

Throughout his life Weisskopf was involved in the activities of many professional societies, both in the US and abroad. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and served as its president from 1976 to 1979. As a fellow of the American Physical Society he held the position of vice president in 1959 and president in 1960. He was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and various international organizations including French, Austrian, Danish, Bavarian, Scottish, Spanish, and Russian academies.

Weisskopf received numerous awards for both his scientific and social contributions, including the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society in 1956, the George Gamow Medal in 1968, the Boris Pregel Prize from the New York Academy of Sciences in 1971, the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca for Humanism in 1972, the Ludwig Boltzmann Prize for 1976, the Ludwik Smoluchowski Medal in 1977, the Orden Pour le Merite in 1978, the US National Medal of Science in 1980, the Wolf Prize in Physics for 1981, the Ehrenzeichen der Republic Österreich für Kunst und Wissenschaft in 1982, the J. Robert Oppenheimer Medal in 1983, the Sigma Xi Proctor Award in 1984, the Enrico Fermi Award from the US Department of Energy in 1988, the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991, the Compton Medal for Statesmanship in Science from the American Institute of Physics in 1992, and the Gian-Carlo Wick Medal from the World Federation of Scientists in 1994. He also received numerous honorary degrees.

During his long career as a theoretical physicist Weisskopf made numerous contributions to the fields of quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, and the physics of elementary particles. (For an overview of his scientific contributions, see Kaiser 2007, pp. 44-56; Jackson and Gottfried 2003, pp. 3-27; and Stefan 1998.) He was a teacher and an advocate of nuclear disarmament, an open exchange of information among scientists of all nations, and the freedom of individuals to express their beliefs. Over his career, Weisskopf published over two hundred papers on a variety of topics including quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, science policy, and nuclear disarmament. He also authored and coauthored several books including Theoretical Nuclear Physics with John Blatt in 1952, Concepts of Particle Physics with Kurt Gottfried in 1984-1986, and an autobiography, The Joy of Insight: Passions of a Physicist, in 1991.

His first wife, Ellen (nee Tvede), whom he married in 1934, died in 1989. They were the parents of two children, Thomas Weisskopf and Karen Weisskopf Worth. In 1991 Weisskopf married Duscha Schmid. Weisskopf died on April 22, 2002, at the age of 93.


60.2 Cubic Feet (8 record cartons, 148 manuscript boxes, 6 half manuscript boxes, and 3 flat boxes)


The collection documents the professional life and career of Victor Frederick Weisskopf (1908-2002) from the 1920s through 2002. Educated in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, Weisskopf made contributions to the quantum theory of radiative transitions, the self-energy of electrons, the electrodynamic properties of the vacuum, and the theory of nuclear reactions. In 1943, several years after his move to the United States, Weisskopf was invited to join the Manhattan Project, where he served as deputy chairman of the theoretical division.

He was a member of the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Physics starting in 1945, Institute Professor from 1965, and Institute Professor Emeritus from 1974. In addition to his research and teaching activities, Weisskopf played a major role in shaping the development of high-energy particle physics in the US and in Europe, serving as director general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) between 1961 and 1965 and chair of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) from 1967 through 1973. Throughout his life he was involved in activities of many professional organizations including the Federation of Atomic Scientists, Pugwash Conferences, American Physical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Pontifical Academy of Science. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1960s through the 1990s, reflecting Weisskopf’s role as a physicist, educator, administrator, scientific statesman, and advocate of social and political causes.

Arrangement of Collection

Organized into eleven series: Series 1. Biographical and Personal Files; Series 2. My Life and Memorabilia; Series 3. General Correspondence; Series 4. Contact Files; Series 5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Materials; Series 6. Organization and Conference Files; Series 7.European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) Materials; Series 8. High Energy Physics Advisory Panel(HEPAP) Materials; Series 9. Research Working Files; Series 10. Science, Policy, and Education Working Files; Series 11. Writings and Presentations.

Location note

Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Victor Weisskopf and the Weisskopf family in several accessions between 1979 and 2006.

Related Materials

CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) Archives

American Institute of Physics, History Center Visual Archives

Selected Bibliography

  • Blatt, John Markus, and V. F. Weisskopf. Theoretical Nuclear Physics. New York: John Wiley, 1952.
  • de-Shalit, A., H. Feshbach, and L. van Hove, eds. Preludes in Theoretical Physics, in Honor of V. F. Weisskopf [essays]. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company; New York: John Wiley, 1966.
  • Fierz, Markus, and Victor F. Weisskopf, eds. Theoretical Physics in the Twentieth Century: A Memorial Volume to Wolfgang Pauli. New York: Interscience Publishers, 1960.
  • Gottfried, Kurt, and V. F. Weisskopf. Concepts of Partical Physics. Volume I and II. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984, 1986.
  • Huang, Kerson, ed. Physics and Our World: A Symposium in Honor of Victor F. Weisskopf. Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1974.
  • Jackson, J. David, and Kurt Gottfried. Victor Frederick Weisskopf, 1908-2002. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 84, 2003, pp. 3-27.
  • Kaiser, David. "Viki Weisskopf: Searching for Simplicity in a Complicated World." Physics@MIT (no. 20), pp.44-56. Cambridge, Mass.: Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007.
  • Miller, Arthur I., ed. Early Quantum Electrodynamics: A Source Book. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Pauli, Wolfgang. Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel mit Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, u.a. (Scientific Correspondence with Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, a.o.) Edited by A. Hermann, K. v. Meyenn, and V. F. Weisskopf. 3 vols. New York: Scribner, 1979-2000.
  • Pauli, Wolfgang. Collected Scientific Papers by Wolfgang Pauli. edited by V. F. Weisskopf and R. Kronig. New York: John Wiley, 1964.
  • Schweber, Silvan S. QED and the Men Who Made It: Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Stefan, Vladislav, ed. Physics and Society: Essays in Honor of Victor Frederick Weisskopf by the International Community of Physicists. New York: AIP Press, Springer, 1998.
  • Weisskopf, Victor Frederick. Physics in the Twentieth Century: Selected Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1972.
  • Weisskopf, Victor Frederick. Knowledge and Wonder (translated into 16 languages). New York: Doubleday, 1962.
  • Weisskopf, Victor Frederick.The Priviledge of Being a Physicist. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1989.
  • Weisskopf, Victor Frederick. The Joy of Insight: Passions of a Physicist.(autobiography) New York: Basic Books, 1991.

Processing Information

Victor Weisskopf assigned titles to many folders of materials he created. Those titles have been preserved, but have been expanded when necessary to provide additional information, including dates, co-authors, locations, etc. When original titles were not available, folders were labeled by the Archives staff to reflect their content and title on folder put in brackets. Series arrangement, series names, and the sequence of folders within each series were made by the Archives staff.

Guide to the Victor Frederick Weisskopf Papers
Ewa Basinska
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processing funded by the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics.

Revision Statements

  • 2021 July 12: Edited by Lana Mason to remove aggrandizing terms in the biographical note description.
  • 2023 January 5: Edited by Chris Tanguay to add additional access and extent information.
  • 2023 July 1: Revised by processing archivist Chris Tanguay to update access notes and language of materials for some materials in Series 3, 4, and 8.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US