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Correspondence and papers of Sir Rudolf (Ernst) Peierls


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The collection, which consists almost entirely of correspondence written and received, covers all aspects of Peierls's career to 1974, including scientific research, service on committees, advisory boards, etc., publications, appointments, overseas visits and the like.

Because of his own highly distinguished scientific work and his knowledge of the world of physics in one of its heroic periods, his involvement with work on the atomic bomb during the Second World War and with disarmament and the Pugwash movement after it, Peierls has already attracted the attention of historians, and has given reminiscences and accounts of episodes in his life, on tape, radio, television, in print and by correspondence. Several of these have been brought together in a sub-section of Section A, items MS. Eng. misc. b. 197/A.16 - MS. Eng. misc. b.198 /A.28, and in MS. Eng. misc. b.219 /D.22 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 219/D.23. Other items not in the present collection are mentioned in Locations of other material below. Peierls's retirement from the Wykeham Chair was marked by a Symposium held in Oxford 11-12 July 1974. Correspondence with participants, and tapes of the talks and discussion, are contained, by courtesy of the organisers Dr. I.J.R. Aitchison and Dr. J.E. Paton, in MS. Eng. misc. b. 198/A.25 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 198/A.28, and include many personal and scientific recollections of Peierls and his career.


  • Creation: 1930-1983


3.3 Linear metres (30 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, where available, e.g. MS. Eng. misc. b. 197/A.1.]

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Eng. misc. b. 197-226 (formerly CSAC 52/6/77/A.1-CSAC 52/6/77/F.50)

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 12081


Catalogue of the correspondence and papers of Sir Rudolf (Ernst) Peierls (1907-1995), physicist.

Biographical / Historical

Rudolf Ernst Peierls was born 5 June 1907 in Berlin. He was educated at a Gymnasium (High School) in a Berlin suburb. On leaving school he spent six months as a trainee technician at the telephone factory Mix & Genest.

Peierls entered Berlin University in October 1925 as a student of physics. In 1926 he transferred to the Department of Theoretical Physics at the University of Munich, led by Professor Arnold Sommerfeld. In the spring of 1928 he transferred to the Theoretical Physics Department at Leipzig University, led by Professor Werner Heisenberg, and in the spring of 1929 he moved yet again - to the Federal Institute of Technology (E.T.H.) in Z├╝rich. He obtained his D.Phil from Leipzig in 1929, with his dissertation on the thermal conductivity of non-conducting crystals, written under the supervision of Wolfgang Pauli. From the autumn of 1929 to the autumn of 1932 he was 'Assistant' To Professor Pauli.

From the autumn of 1932 to the autumn of 1933 Peierls held a Rockefeller Felowship, allowing him to work with Enrico Fermi in Rome, and with Paul Dirac and R.H. Fowler in Cambridge. From 1933 to 1935 he did research at Manchester University, funded by an 'academic assistance' grant supporting German refugees. From 1935 to 1937 he transferred his research to the Mond Laboratory at Cambridge University. In 1937 Peierls was appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics, later changed to Mathematical Physics, at the University of Birmingham. In 1963 he was appointed Wykeham Professor of Theoretical Physics at Oxford University, where he was a Fellow of New College. He retired from this position in 1974. In later years he was as a part-time professor at the University of Washington.

During the war years, because of His German birth, Peierls was not allowed to to work on research into radar. From 1940 to 1943 he did atomic-energy work for the M.A.U.D. Committee and the Tube Alloys Project. From 1943 until the end of the war he worked on the Manhattan Project, both in New York and at Los Alamos.

Peierls's research work includes work on the quantum theory of solids of electro-magnetic fields and of the solid nucleus. Some of this was done jointly with L. Landau, H.A. Bethe, N. Bohr and others. Visits to other institutions included a semester at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton 1952, a semester at Columbia University 1959, The Battelle Visiting Professorship at the University of Washington for two quarters in 1967, and subsequent shorter visits to the University of Washington in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1973.

Peierls was awarded a C.B.E. in 1946, and was knighted in 1968. He was awarded numerous honours, both domestically and internationally.

Peierls was a founding member of the Atomic Scientists Association and a member of their Council during its existence. He was a participant in the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He was a member of the Continuing Committee 1963 to 1974, and Chairman of the Continuing Committee 1970 to 1974.

Peierls married in 1931. The couple had one son and three daughters. Peierls died 19 September 1995, in Oxford. In 1985 Peierls published Bird of Passage: Recollections of a physicist, which covers his life until 1974.


Biographical and personal MS. Eng. misc. b. 197/A.1 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 198/A.28

University and academic (at Birmingham and Oxford) MS. Eng. misc. b. 198/B.1 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 201/B.47

Scientific correspondence MS. Eng. misc. b. 202/C.1 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 217/C.359

Publications, broadcasts, reports MS. Eng. misc. b. 218/D.1 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 220/D.25

Conferences, symposia, invitation lectures, visits MS. Eng. misc. b. 220/E.1 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 222/E.35

Committees, Societies, Consultancies MS. Eng. misc. b. 223/F.1 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 226/F.50

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were received from Sir Rudolf Peierls in August 1974, after his retirement from the Wykeham Chair of Physics, Oxford University. They refer therefore only to his activities up to 1974.

Deposited in 1977

Related Materials

There is a Supplementary Catalogue of the Papers of Sir Rudolf Peierls. This is not yet available online, but printed copies are available in the reading rooms.

Catalogue of the correspondence and papers of Sir Rudolf (Ernst) Peierls
Finding aid prepared by Original catalogue by Jeannine Alton and Harriot Weiskittel; EAD version by Lawrence Mielniczuk
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom