Papers and correspondence of Kurt Alfred Georg Mendelssohn, 1906-1980

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers provide good documentation of the whole range of Mendelssohn's activities. There are records of his low temperature research, 1928-1939, the medical physics work during the Second World War, post-war low temperature research in Oxford and scientific and advisory work for other universities and institutions in Britain and overseas. These records include notebooks, research reports, correspondence and photographs of colleagues and apparatus. There are drafts and correspondence relating to his lectures, broadcasts and publications on low temperatures, and on other topics such as China and pyramids, and to his editorial activities including Cryogenics. There are also papers relating to scientific visits and conferences, especially International Cryogenic Engineering Conferences, 1968-1978, and Institut de la Vie Conferences, 1966-1977. The core of Mendelssohn's general scientific correspondence is a collection of correspondence dating mainly from the 1930s which was kept together in a single box file. The correspondents include several of F.E. Simon's former research students and other members of the laboratory in Berlin and the letters contain news of friends and colleagues as well as some substantial scientific exchanges.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mendelssohn was born in Berlin and educated at the Goethe-Schule there and Berlin University. He began his research career under his cousin F.E. Simon in Berlin and Breslau. Forced to leave Germany, he came to Oxford to work at the Clarendon Laboratory at the invitation of F.A. Lindemann in 1933 and was the first person to liquefy helium in Britain. Subsequently Simon, N. Kurti and H. London came to Oxford and contributed with Mendelssohn to the establishment of the Clarendon Laboratory as an important centre of low temperature research. With the advent of the Second World War the low temperature apparatus had to be dismantled and Mendelssohn turned to various collaborative projects in medical physics. After the war he resumed his work on low temperatures in collaboration with a succession of gifted research students, many of whom built up graduate schools of their own on leaving the Clarendon, thus making their mark in low temperature centres all over the world. In addition to his laboratory work he was closely involved with other low temperature scientists at the international level. He was Chairman and founder member of the International Cryogenic Engineering Committee, President of Commission A2 of the International Institute of Refrigeration and founder and general editor of the journal Cryogenics. As 'extra-mural' activities he was especially interested in China, and in the sociological and engineering background of the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids, publishing and lecturing widely on these topics. He was elected FRS in 1951.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Scientific research, Lectures and broadcasts, Publications and editorial activities, Visits and conferences, China, Pyramids, General correspondence, Photographs. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Entry permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card or an Oxford University Card displaying the Bodleian logo. All applicants for new or replacement cards must apply in person, with a recommendation and payment if required, and with proof of their identity.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Kurt Alfred Georg Mendelssohn (1906-1980) by J. Alton and J. Latham-Jackson, CSAC catalogue no. 94/4/83, 118 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1981 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from Mrs J.L.C. Mendelssohn, widow. Placed in Bodleian Library (gift) in 1983.