Papers and correspondence of Cecil Frank Powell, 1903-1969

Scope and Content

The papers contain biographical material (including three chapters of an uncompleted autobiography), speeches and publications. There are 105 manuscript notebooks which fall into three separate groups: Cambridge notes by Powell on lectures by Rutherford, C.T.R. Wilson and others; Bristol notebooks, 1939-1949, of cosmic ray observations by Powell and his team; and notebooks of miscellaneous material such as drafts by Powell for his own lectures, speeches or publications, notes taken at conferences, etc. There are also journals, notebooks and reports relating to the Royal Society expedition to Montserrat in 1936 to investigate earth tremors on which Powell served as seismologist. Except for a few letters dealing with publications, there is no personal or professional correspondence. Documents (including correspondence) dealing with Powell's work for international organisations were destroyed after his death.

The supplementary papers include biographical material such as congratulatory letters on the Nobel Prize, Powell's sixtieth birthday and the Lomonosov Gold Medal, and family letters. Powell's research is represented chiefly by contemporary letters recording the high altitude balloon flights in Sardinia in 1952 and 1953. There are also photographs relating to Powell's scientific work and some drafts for lectures, addresses and broadcasts. Powell's public life in national and international affairs remains scantily documented, only a few records of Pugwash conferences and a little correspondence, disproportionately skewed towards the second half of the alphabet, surviving what was believed to be the wholesale destruction of his correspondence and papers after his death.

Administrative / Biographical History

Powell was born in Tonbridge, Kent and educated at Judd School, Tonbridge and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He began his research career at Cambridge with C.T.R. Wilson, but in 1928 he moved to Bristol University as research assistant to A.M. Tyndall. Powell spent the rest of his life at Bristol as Lecturer, 1931-1946, Reader, 1946-1948, Melville Wills Professor of Physics, 1948-1963, and Henry Overton Wills Professor and Director of the H.H. Wills Laboratory, 1964-1969. Powell always encouraged an international approach to research, and from 1950 played an increasingly large part in political and international science, as Chairman of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, 1956-1959, Chairman of the Science Policy Committee CERN, 1961-1963, and in many other capacities. He was one of the signatories of the Russell-Einstein manifesto of July 1955, and presided at the plenary session of the first Pugwash Conference in July 1957. Powell was a pioneer in particle physics, best known for his discovery of the pion. He was elected FRS in 1949 (Hughes Medal 1949, Royal Medal 1961) and was awarded the 1950 Nobel Prize for Physics for his development of the photographic method of studying nuclear processes and his discoveries regarding mesons made with this method.


Original material: By section as follows: Biographical, Cambridge notebooks, Laboratory notebooks, Working notebooks, Publications and speeches, Royal Society expedition to Montserrat, Offprints. Index of correspondents.

Supplementary material: By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Balloon flights, Lectures, broadcasts and publications, Pugwash conferences, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

No known restrictions or closure. Visits by appointment. Some form of identification required.

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Cecil Frank Powell (1903-1969) by J. Alton and H. Weiskittel, CSAC catalogue no. 12/6/74, 15 pp. Printed supplementary catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Cecil Frank Powell (1903-1969) by J. Alton, P. Harper and M. Erskine, CSAC catalogue no. 112/2/86, 39 pp. Copies of both available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

Original material received in 1973 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from Mrs Isobel Powell, widow and Physics Department, Bristol University and deposited in Bristol University Library in 1974. Supplementary material received in 1985 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from Mrs Isobel Powell and deposited in Bristol University Library in 1986.

Related Material

Material placed in Bristol University Library since 1987 comprises the following:

DM1161 - Citations and certificates of honorary degrees 1947-1968
DM1179 - Certificates, photographs, sketch-books etc 1929-1987
DM1194 - School report 1912, correspondence etc 1921-1943
DM1208 - Tape-recording of Speech to the World Conference of Scientists 1955, Interview by A. Porter, 1968.
DM1251 - Diary of Mrs Powell, Nobel festivities 1950.
DM1834 - Off-prints and notes for projected tour of Europe 1969.
DM1271 - Powell's University of Bristol Personnel file. 1930-1974. RESTRICTED
DM1453 - Memorabilia from Physics Department 1928-1969.
DM1487/13 - 'Fragments of Autobiography'.
DM1503 - Photographs of Nobel ceremony, 1950; newspaper cuttings on Foreign Office ban on proposed lecture tour ofGermany, 1953.
DM1636/3 - Papers re Powell Memorial Occasion 1970.