Papers and correspondence of Egon Bretscher, 1901-1973

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers, though not exhaustive, provide some useful material on Bretscher's career and some of the momentous events in which he participated. There is biographical material including Bretscher's own 'Survey of activities during the war and with the A.E.R.E.', compiled in 1964 and a lecture given at Harwell in 1967 on 'Wartime nuclear physics and chemical research at the Cavendish Laboratory 1940-1944 associated with atomic weapons'. Very little remains of his early work in Switzerland and there is only a little material on the early stages of his atomic research at Cambridge and the collaboration with D.E. Lea. Much better documented is the work undertaken at the Cavendish Laboratory for the 'Tube Alloys' Project. There are research notes and reports by members of the team, reports prepared for the Maud Committee and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Bretscher's regular exchanges of correspondence with J. Chadwick and records of later work relating to postwar publication of the wartime research.

Because of the exceptionally tight security virtually no personal research material remains from the Los Alamos period. There are, however, a number of final reports contributed to the sequence of 'L.A.' reports, some personal correspondence, circulars and newsletters, and press-cuttings. The largest body of material relates to Bretscher's postwar career at Harwell and documents his involvement in national and international nuclear data committees, and his interest in maintaining collaboration with universities and other research institutions. The surviving correspondence is scanty with few substantial exchanges.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bretscher was born in Zrich and educated at the Eidgenssische Technische Hochschule (ETH). He obtained his diploma in chemical engineering at the ETH and then spent 1925-1927 at Edinburgh University working for his doctorate in the Department of Chemistry (J. Walker). After a further period at the ETH he was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship, held at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, 1934-1935. Rutherford invited him to return to Cambridge in 1936 and he remained there as Clerk Maxwell Scholar, 1936-1939, and Lecturer, 1939-1944. His work on nuclear physics led to his involvement in the British atomic bomb research project 'Tube Alloys' and his membership of the British Mission to the Manhattan District Scientific Laboratory at Los Alamos from early 1944 where he worked in E. Fermi's Advanced Development Division. After the war he returned to Britain and joined the newly-established Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, first as head of the Chemistry Division, then from 1948 as head of the Nuclear Physics Division. He retired from Harwell in 1966.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Switzerland, Cambridge, 'Tube Alloys', Los Alamos, Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Visits, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Readers intending to use the Archives Centre must write in advance to the Keeper of the Archives giving details of their research subject and listing the collections they will wish to consult. New readers should also provide a letter of introduction and some form of identification (such as a passport or driving licence).

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Egon Bretscher (1901-1973) by J. Alton and P. Harper, CSAC catalogue no. 115/6/86, 72 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1984-1986 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre, from Mrs Hanni Bretscher, widow. Some of the papers relating to research, committees, lectures and publications during Bretscher's period at AERE Harwell, and not required by the Public Record Office, were received in 1984 from Harwell. Deposited in Churchill Archives Centre in 1986.