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Nuclear physics and the Second World War

The material is divided into two sections
D.1 - D.28 Nuclear physics and the MAUD Committee
These papers include some of Thomson's early research notes on experiments with neutrons and one folder of calculations re uranium (D.8) as well as copies of the MAUD Committee reports of July 1940, various notes of meetings and some correspondence, both contemporary and later.

D.29 - D.78 Second World War: other activities
The documentation for this period is sparse. There is very little in the way of correspondence, and less to illustrate Thomson's daily activities, with the exception of the visits he made to various establishments in Canada and the U.S.A. during his time at Ottawa as Scientific Liaison Officer between Britain and Canada. Most of these papers are accounts of meetings and visits in Canada and U.S.A. but there is also some correspondence. This series of ms. and typescript reports is to be found at D.35 - D.59. D.66 - 72 relate to Thomson's work on the Radio Board. D.73 - 76 relate to his position of Scientific Adviser to the Air Ministry

Electron diffraction

C3-8 consist of the contents of a folder labelled 'Potential Drop in Dark Space. October 1923-January 1924'. For ease of reference, the material has been subdivided and put into separate folders. Thomson's original ordering of the papers has been retained.
C 10-22 consist of the contents of folder labelled 'Calculations for Scattering of positive rays in hydrogen, argon and helium'. The order of the papers remains unchanged but the original folder has been discarded.


References written by Batchelor, mostly for senior or junior faculty members. Given the likelihood at the time of cataloguing that they would fall under Data Protection laws, they have not been catalogued in detail


This section does not include lectures given as part of courses at Cambridge University which are found in section D9. The surviving materials in this class vary from complete texts to notes and precis and, in the latter period, overhead projector slides.

Trinity College

This class contains a few items relating to Batchelor’s relationship with Trinity College. He was admitted as a Research Student in 1945, elected a Fellow under Title A [Junior Research Fellow] in 1947 and under Title B [Senior Research Fellow] in 1951. Correspondence concerning his admission can be found at BACH/B7


The items in this series are notes, which, for the most part, are discrete and focused, and are either titled on the note or Batchelor has added a slip of paper bearing a title to the document or file. The contents of some is almost certainly included in lectures and publications

Estate of Gladys Davies

Gladys Davies had been the housekeeper for G I Taylor and his wife from 1939 until 1975 and cared for both Stephanie and Geoffrey Taylor in their latter years. In recognition of this, Taylor left his house "Farmfield' to her in his will. In her own will, Miss Davies instructed that Farmfield be sold and the money given to the University to establish the G I Taylor Memorial Fund. It appears that Batchelor was Miss Davies executor.

Scientific Lectures and Writings

F.1 - F.33 University lectures (at Cambridge, Aberdeen, and Imperial College London)

F.34 - F.149 Physics

F.150 - F.209 Nuclear and Thermonuclear Energy

The material in each of the sub-sections is presented in approximate chronological order, though Thomson rarely dated his early notes and drafts; in many cases they can only be roughly dated on internal evidence. The `University Lectures', especially those given at Aberdeen, were often cannibalised and updated for use at Imperial College, London, and no firm boundary can be drawn except for the post-Second World War lectures at London on cosmic rays and nuclear physics.

The lectures and writings on `Physics', F.34 - F.149, naturally focus on Thomson's own research interests and discoveries. F.36 - F.61 are almost all on electron diffraction, his own experimental research (for which he shared with C.J. Davisson the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1937) and the wave-particle theory of matter; the number of these, and the range of places at which Thomson was asked to speak, show the international recognition of his work. Several items, F.66 - F.77, deal with the practical applications of electron diffraction, and the electron microscope, as tools of research.

After the Second World War, Thomson continued to write and lecture on the electron, and also on cosmic rays, mesons, and atomic structure. The advent of nuclear, and later of thermonuclear power, however, provided the chief matter of his scientific research and publications. F.120 - F.168 are a crowded cluster of items - including several broadcasts - on the nature and control of nuclear energy, followed by a similar output at F.169 - F.174 on the then new implications of the hydrogen bomb. These problems continue to recur throughout the remainder of the material, some linked with the opening of atomic power stations (F.188 et seq.).

Thomson himself made a distinguished contribution to research on nuclear fusion from the early 1940s, and played a part in the development of thermonuclear research at Harwell and A.E.I. Most of his work was not released for publication, but the public announcement of Zeta in 1958 led to many lectures and articles by him, some technical and some more popular, on thermonuclear questions (F.193 - F.205).

The material in this Section is only rarely accompanied by research material or by related correspondence - it should be consulted in conjunction with the notebooks and documents in Sections C and E.

Although several items naturally contain autobiographical and historical reflections by Thomson on his experience of twentieth-century physics, his explicit writings on the history of physics and physicists, and his more general ideas on the methods, purpose and implications of science have been grouped in Sections G and H respectively.

Science-Related Interests

H.1 -H.40 Aims and methods of science

H.41 -H.78 Science and society

H.79 -H.91 Science and education

H.92 -H.98 Science and war

H.99 -H.111 Science and religion

H.112-H.125 Chance and predictability

H.126-H.159 Euthanasia

H.160, H.161 Shorter talks.

The material in this Section includes notes, lectures, broadcasts and publications, and a little related correspondence.

There is inevitably some overlap with material assigned to other Sections, e.g., F.150 - F.209 on the effects of nuclear and thermonuclear power. The main criterion is that Section H contains the reflections of a non-professional on fields of activity affected by developments in his own profession.

Thomson was always interested in the wider aspects of science. Some of the talks on the purposes and methods of science, and of its relation with religion, appear to date from the late 1920s or early 1930s; his lectures in America and Canada, 1929-30, are known to have included a talk on the philosophical implications of the recent discoveries in physics.

The surviving material represents two main strands in Thomson's thinking. One of these is concerned with the practical aspects of science, its impact on society, its funding and guidance, its relations with government institutions, its influence on individual lives in peace and war. His book `The foreseeable future' (1955, widely translated) is the best known summation of these ideas, but the entries below indicate the number and also the time-span of his writings and lectures on similar topics.

The second aspect relates to abstract and philosophical concepts. From general discussion of scientific and religious criteria of truth and choice, Thomson was led to examine determinism in human affairs, and randomness and predictability in the human brain. Much of his later work is concerned with these matters.

The two threads may be said to come together in Thomson's work for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Here he seems to have felt that for both sociological and philosophical reasons an individual may, and should, exercise the power of choice over his life. Thomson gave much attention to this in his later years, and planned an extended work on the subject (H.126 - H.138), left unpublished at his death.

Thermonuclear research

The material is divided as follows:

E.1 - E.70 Notes, drafts and calculations, 1946-59

E.71 - E.87 Patent applications relating to thermonuclear energy, 1946-59

E.88 - E.90 Correspondence and papers, 1946-52

E.91 - E.105 Minutes of meetings, 1952-63

E.106-E.111 Correspondence, 1958-63

E.112-E.143 Research reports and lectures by others

E.144, E.145 Miscellaneous other material

The survival of Thomson's research notes and drafts for this period (E.1 - E.70) is particularly interesting in view of the secrecy restrictions which allowed him to publish so little (but see F.114, F.115), although some of his drafts were reproduced for limited circulation as Harwell research reports (see, e.g., E.34, E.35).

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