Papers and correspondence of Sir Nevill Francis Mott, 1905-1996.

Scope and Content

Biographical material is slight. It includes, however, drafts for his autobiography and a bibliography, albeit incomplete. Research papers principally comprise a sequence of published papers, pre-prints etc by other scientists annotated by Mott or occasionally by collaborators such as A.S. Alexandrov, 1946-1996. In addition there are a very small number of notes and drafts by Mott and others, 1989-1996. Only a small number of Mott's public and invitation lectures are documented, 1964, 1986-1994. There is a major sequence of drafts for his scientific publications, 1961-1996 which is especially substantial for his last years though not always straightforward in its interpretation. Publications correspondence is not extensive and his long association with Taylor & Francis is represented by a relatively few papers, 1980-1996. There is a substantial but incomplete set of Mott's off-prints, 1929-1995.

There is documentation of Mott's association with eleven British and international societies and organisations. His interests in nuclear weapons issues and defence questions more widely are reflected in the papers of the Oxford Research Group and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Although Mott was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1936 the record presented here covers the period 1976-1993 only, and relates almost entirely to his interests in science education. There is a record of a small number of visits and conferences attended by Mott in the UK and overseas for about twenty years from 1977 including invitations for 1996 and 1997 he was not able to fulfil. In addition to visits and conferences associated with Mott's scientific research there are records of a seminar on 'gifted' children at Cambridge, 1981 and the Second Nova Spes Colloquium of Nobel Prizewinners in Rome, November 1987 when Mott met the Pope. There is useful documentation of Mott's developing interest in religion in his later years. There is correspondence, 1977-1996, including a small group of papers kept separately by Mott about the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Kng, and drafts for Can scientists believe?, Mott's shorter publications and writings, and sermons. Finally, there is a chronological sequence of correspondence, 1968-1996, predominantly incoming, reflecting Mott's continuing interest in research to the end of his life. It includes correspondence and papers on energy questions, especially solar energy and photovoltaics, and high temperature superconductivity.

Administrative / Biographical History

Nevill Francis Mott was born in Leeds on 30 September 1905. His father, Charles Francis Mott, who later became Director of Education of Liverpool, and his mother, Lillian Mary Mott ne Reynolds, had been research students together under J.J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. Mott was educated at Clifton College, Bristol and St John's College, Cambridge where he studied mathematics and theoretical physics. After three years research in applied mathematics he was appointed to a lectureship at Manchester University in 1929. He returned to Cambridge in 1930 as a Fellow and lecturer of Gonville and Caius College and in 1933 moved to Bristol University as Melville Wills Professor in Theoretical Physics. In 1948 he became Henry Overton Wills Professor of Physics and Director of the Henry Herbert Wills Physical Laboratory at Bristol. In 1954 he was appointed Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge, a post he held until 1971. Additionally he served as Master of Gonville and Caius College, 1959-1966.

Mott's early research at Cambridge established his reputation in the application of the new ideas of wave mechanics to collisions of atomic particles. On moving to Bristol he left this field for that of metals and alloys, establishing an international reputation there too within a few years. Later he turned to research on semiconductors and insulators, and to problems concerned with the formation of a latent image in a photographic emulsion. During Mott's twenty-one years at Bristol his group occupied a position of great eminence in theoretical physics. War-related work during the Second World War was concerned with the propagation of radio waves and the explosive fragmentation of shell and bomb cases.

Mott's appointment as Cavendish Professor inevitably led to a greater involvement in administration both in the laboratory and the university and he assumed a number of positions nationally and internationally, both within the scientific community and more widely, for example, in the field of education. Nevertheless he remained active in research. The work for which he shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in the area of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems was begun in the 1960s, while in his final years he was engaged in investigations of high temperature superconductivity. Mott was not only one of the great theoreticians of the twentieth-century, his work in semiconductors and solid state physics had great practical implications, enabling improvements to be made to the performance of electronic circuits, including computer memories, and in making more efficient solar energy cells.

In addition to a great number of scientific papers Mott was the author of a number of major books including The Theory of Atomic Collisions (with H.S.W. Massey, 1933), Electronic Processes in Non-Crystalline Materials (with E.A. Davis, 1971), Metal-Insulator Transitions (1974) and Conduction in Non-Crystalline Materials (1986). He also edited a volume of essays by scientists on religious belief Can scientists believe? (1991). In 1986 Mott published an autobiography A life in science.

He was elected FRS in 1936 (Hughes Medal 1941, Royal Medal 1953, Copley Medal 1972; Bakerian Lecture 1953, Rutherford Memorial Lecture 1962, Humphry Davy Lecture 1988), and was awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physics (with P.W. Anderson and J.H. Van Vleck) 'for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems' . He was knighted in 1962 and made a Companion of Honour in 1995. He died on 8 August 1996.


By section as follows: Biographical, Research, Lectures and publications, Societies and organisations, Visits and conferences, Religion, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

Access to holders of full Reader's Tickets from Cambridge University Library.

Acquisition Information

The original papers were received from Mrs Alice Crampin, daughter, in December 1997 and placed in Cambridge University Library in 2002. Supplementary papers received from Mrs Crampin in 2003 and placed in Cambridge University Library in 2003.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Nevill Francis Mott: NCUACS catalogue nos. 105/4/02, 63 pp, and NCUACS catalogue no.119/5/03, 60 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.


Biographical material forms by far the largest group of papers. There is additional material relating to Mott's autobiography, a major sequence of documentation of career, honours and awards, 1918-1996, including the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics, and an almost complete sequence of appointment diaries, 1958-1996. The most substantial component is Mott's family correspondence, 1922-1962. This is principally Mott's letters to his parents and provides indispensable documentation of his career from Clifton College school, Bristol to the Cavendish Professorship of Physics, Cambridge. The sequence includes Mott's undergraduate years at St John's College, Cambridge, 1924-1927, Copenhagen with Bohr in 1928, Manchester with W.L. Bragg, 1928-1929, Cambridge, 1930-1933, pre- and post-war Bristol and the Second World War. There are also sequences of correspondence from Mott's visits to Japan, 1953 and Africa, 1962. Biographical items of particular interest are drafts relating to his father's research at the Cavendish under J.J. Thomson and Ruth Mott's account of her and her husband's visit to Russia in 1934. There are also sequences of press-cuttings and a small number of photographs of Mott and scientific colleagues.

There is documentation of a small number of Mott's public and invitation lectures and shorter publications and writings, and a little publications correspondence, 1970-1995. Societies and organisations material is slight, providing additional documentation of Mott's association with five British and international bodies, 1952-1995, including the Royal Society. Visits and conferences material is also slight, comprising single items representing six occasions, 1959-1993. There is further documentation of Mott's developing interest in religion in his later years: correspondence, 1977-1996, an annotated draft of 'Christianity without miracle' , Mott's own contribution for Can scientists believe?, shorter publications and writings, and sermons. There is a little further correspondence presented as a chronological sequence with scientific colleagues and others, 1963-1996.