The papers consist of correspondence, research notes, writings, documents, publications, photographs, glass slides, films, and audiotapes documenting all stages of Otto Robert Frisch's life, and include Frisch's collection of the papers of his aunt, the physicist Lise Meitner. The 70 boxes of material are organised into seven series: Biographical and personal papers; Scientific research; Lectures and publications; Radio, television, films; Visits and conferences; Correspondence; and Non-print material.
Series A, Biographical and personal papers, is particularly full, incorporating material relating not only to Frisch's own career and interests including music (A.86-90) and sketching (A.84, 233-249), but also to Frisch’s extended family. These have historical interest as an example of the diaspora of the Thirties, and in the case of Lise Meitner a more specific scientific interest complementing other material deposited elsewhere. Lise Meitner's papers appear primarily in this series (A.134-211), and consist of correspondence, most of which is with Frisch and her younger brother Walter, as well as drafts of lectures, photographs, and miscellaneous papers. Several of her letters appear elsewhere in the collection (C.55, D.55, and F.15) and she is the subject of letters and articles throughout. Series F contains photocopies of letters written to her from Otto Hahn in December 1938 (F.52) and Series G includes photographs of her as well as an undated audiotape of a conversation between Frisch and Meitner (G.31).
Series B, Scientific research, includes notebooks, laboratory notes and calculations, publication drafts and correspondence. It presents a full record for the periods of work at Hamburg and Copenhagen, but the wartime work on the atomic bomb project is under-represented due to the security restrictions placed on the work. B.209-220 are documents relating to nuclear fission in the first half of 1939: correspondence between Frisch in Copenhagen and his aunt Lise Meitner in Sweden, correspondence between Frisch and Niels Bohr at Princeton, two drafts of Bohr's paper on the disintegration of heavy nuclei and correspondence between Frisch and Nature. The series also contains Frisch’s original eyewitness account of the Trinity Test (B.135), and a letter from Louis, identified as Louis Slotin by Sir Rudolf Peierls, written a month before Slotin's fatal accident (B.136A). Also present is an item added later by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre which provided the original cataloguing of the collection, a photocopy of the official report on Frisch's work at Los Alamos drawn up in August 1946 (A.58A). For the later period, the paucity of material relating to the Cavendish Laboratory reflects Frisch's lack of interest in administrative and committee work and his preference for relatively small-scale experimental projects such as his scanning device, and the various constructions and gadgets which he continued to devise for his Laser Scan company to the end of his life.
Series C, Lectures and publications, and D, Radio, television, films illustrate Frisch's expository skills in the written and the spoken word; he was greatly in demand as a lecturer, and the broadcasting services made regular calls on his multi-lingual gifts. There are drafts, correspondence, and printed material related to Frisch's lectures and publications, and drafts of scripts, correspondence, contracts and receipts related to Frisch's work in radio, television, and film.
Series E, Visits and conferences, varies in content from brief notices or programmes to substantial folders including correspondence on scientific matters, arrangements for lectures, publications, and travel, as well as visits to friends. It should be noted that many of the important meetings of the Thirties were held at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at Copenhagen where he worked. E.64-76 contains material relating to the commemoration meeting for Bohr held at Copenhagen in 1963. The material in Section G, Non-print materials, provides a supplementary photographic record of meetings and conferences.
The correspondence in Series F dates mainly postdates 1947 and Frisch's establishment in Cambridge. Very little survives for 1943-1947 due to security restrictions at Los Alamos. Incoming scientific correspondence for the earlier period 1930-1943 is less well documented and was usually kept by Frisch with relevant research notes. Incoming personal letters for those years appear mainly in the 'Family correspondence and papers' in Series A. During the Thirties, Frisch kept copies of his outgoing letters in chronological folders where correspondence of all kinds and in several languages is juxtaposed. In a letter to Margaret Hope of 14 September 1936, Frisch explains 'I like to keep a duplicate of all my letters, it is like a diary for me'. This material remains in its original order, at B.39-42, B.73-81.
Series G, Non-print material, consists of photographs, film, glass plate slides, photographic slides, and audiotapes. The photographs include those by his aunt and noted photographer Lotte Meitner-Graf (G.10, 12, 18). The film includes those taken at Copenhagen and the Bohr’s holiday home Tisvilde in 1937 (G.21), and at post-war conferences (G.22). The glass plate slides were created to accompany lectures (G.23-28). There is also an audio recording of an undated conversation between Lise Meitner and Frisch (G.31).
Frisch was fluent in German, Danish, and English, and read other languages, and so the collection is multi-lingual as well. He continued to use Danish and German for lectures, speeches or correspondence to the end of his life; English became his language of choice for writing. Another feature of the collection is evidence of Frisch’s gift for sketching, particularly of caricatures of colleagues; there are some specific samples of his drawings, but others are scattered throughout the collection, on letters, conference programmes, and menus. Shortly before his death in 1979 Frisch published his autobiography What little I remember (Cambridge University Press), giving an informal account of his life mainly up to 1947. This has been drawn upon as a basis for dating material, and catalogue entries cite references in the book. The memoir by R.E. Peierls for the Royal Society of London, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (27, 1981) has been drawn upon and referred to in the catalogue as well.