Maria Goeppert Mayer Papers, 1906-1996 (bulk 1930-1972) (MSS 20)

Restrictions: Mayer's Nobel medal in Box 15 is restricted. Permission to view this item is required in advance from the director of Special Collections & Archives.

Extent: 7.5 Linear feet (15 archives boxes, 1 flat box and 1 map case folder)

Papers of Maria Goeppert Mayer (1906-1972), Nobel Prize winning physicist and professor at the University of California, 1960-1964. The collection includes correspondence, biographical information, reprints, manuscript drafts, notebooks, teaching materials, subject files, news clippings and photographs.

Maria Goeppert Mayer was born on June 28, 1906 in Kattowitz, Germany, to Friedrich and Maria (nee Wolff) Goeppert. In 1910 she moved with her parents to Gottingen where her father taught pediatrics at the University. She enrolled at the University at Gottingen in the spring of 1924 with the expectation of pursuing a career in mathematics, but soon became attracted to physics and the developing field of quantum mechanics. In 1930 Mayer took her doctorate in theoretical physics under the direction of Nobel prize winners Max Born, James Franck, and Adolf Windaus.

While completing her studies at Gottingen she met and married Joseph Edward Mayer, an American post-doctoral fellow working in physical chemistry under James Franck. Together they moved to Baltimore, Maryland where Joseph taught at the Johns Hopkins University. In 1939 they went to Columbia University. There Maria worked under the direction of Harold Urey at the S.A.M. (Strategic Alloy Metals) Laboratory which researched the separation of isotopes of uranium. She co-authored a text entitled Statistical Mechanics (1940) with her husband. After the war she took a professorship of physics at the Institute for Nuclear Studies, University of Chicago. During this period Mayer began a long correspondence with Edward Teller.

In 1948, Mayer began work on nuclear shell structure and the meaning of the "magic numbers"- those nuclei that have a special number of protons. She postulated these numbers to be the shell numbers of a shell model, a "nuclear counterpart to the closed shells of electrons" at the atomic level. In 1950 she met and began a collaboration with Johannes Hans Daniel Jensen which led to the publication of the book Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Theory (1955). In 1963, Maria Mayer was awarded the Nobel Prize jointly with Hans Jensen for their work on the Shell Model.

Maria Goeppert Mayer came to the University of California, San Diego, in 1960 as a professor of physics. At San Diego she taught while conducting research in nuclear physics under grants administered by Keith Brueckner. During this period Mayer publically encouraged young women to pursue careers in the sciences. She was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Akademie der Wissenschafter in Heidelberg, and the Philosophical Society. After a protracted illness, she died on February 20, 1972.

Papers of Maria Goeppert Mayer (1906-1972), Nobel Prize winning physicist and professor at the University of California, 1960-1964. The collection includes correspondence, biographical information, reprints, manuscript drafts, notebooks, teaching materials, subject files, news clippings and photographs.

Accessions Processed in 1988: Mayer's papers contain a relative abundance of correspondence and her research notebooks. There are scant manuscript materials related to her numerous publications.


Accession Processed in 1997


Accession Processed in 2015


Container List

Accessions Processed in 1988


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 1) CORRESPONDENCE: Maria Mayer's papers contain a relative abundance of correspondence, much in German, with family members, professional colleagues, and admirers. Within the subseries, folders are arranged in chronological order.

Arranged in four subseries: A) General Correspondence, B) Edward Teller Correspondence, C) Undated Correspondence and D) Family Correspondence.

A) General Correspondence: Incoming and outgoing correspondence in English and German, arranged chronologically, primarily with scientific colleagues and organizations. The German correspondence may include notes in English on the contents of the letter. Also contained in the correspondence are letters from Mayer's dissertation advisor, Max Born, who emigrated to England before World War II. Most of his letters are of a personal nature, discussing the impending war with Germany, life in besieged England, and the affairs of mutual friends and colleagues.

B) Edward Teller Correspondence: The Teller letters were probably written in the period 1939-1971 by Dr. Edward Teller, physicist, and "Father of the H-Bomb." Most of the letters are on plain paper, handwritten, and signed "Edward". A few are typed on letterhead from the University of Chicago, University of California, Berkeley, and a Santa Fe Post Office Box (Los Alamos). One letter was written in German, while the remaining letters are in English, and for the most part appear to have been written from hotel rooms or during transit on planes or trains.

The letters were written against a background of national and international events: the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939; the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the War; the dropping of atom bombs on Japan in 1945; the political situation in the post war United States; the re-election of President Truman in 1948; the Klaus Fuchs exposure in 1950; the Soviet take-over of Hungary; the United States entry into the Korean War in 1950; and the investigation of J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project.

From this historical background, it is possible to assign tentative year dates to many of the letters. In a very few cases, a month has been added when a family event, for example a birth or death, has been mentioned. When the letters were received from the donor there was no apparent organization. They have now been organized into 17 folders by date. The general nature of these letters is purely personal. Although there are occasional references to particular physics problems in which Teller or Mayer was engaged, there are no detailed discussions of a scientific nature.

There are innumerable references to mutual friends and physicists, their locations and activities. Occasionally, Teller mentions his wife Mici and his children Paul, Susan, and Wendy. Teller speaks about his family in Hungary. He discusses the condition of postwar Germany and of what might be done to get surviving scientists out and to the United States. He speaks of his great love for the Hungarian language and for Hungarian poetry and of his regret that Maria does not know that language. He takes note of place as well as time, speaking of walking by the Danube River, the beauty of New Mexico, and the climate of California. The great strength of the letters is the completely open way in which Teller writes about his hopes, fears, disappointments, and rages, his dissatisfaction with himself, his work habits, and his frequently stormy relations with fellow scientists. This is particularly true of the period 1946 when he was trying to choose between remaining at Los Alamos, returning to the University of Chicago, or accepting an offer from the University of California. It is also true of a later period, 1950, when the issue of the loyalty oath in California caused him to refuse a position as professor at the University. He expressed himself vigorously on this issue. Finally, there are no apparent direct references to his testimony before the Atomic Energy Committee in their enquiry into J. Robert Oppenheimer.

C) Undated Correspondence: Incoming correspondence in English and German from friends and colleagues, arranged alphabetically by surname.

D) Family Correspondence: Incoming and outgoing correspondence in German between Maria Mayer and family members, particularly her mother, Maria Wolff.

General Correspondence

Box 1 Folder 1-29
1933 - 1962
Box 2 Folder 1-13
1963 - 1973

Edward Teller Correspondence

Box 3 Folder 1-17
1939 - 1971 and undated

Includes correspondence from Los Alamos, Livermore, and the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory.

Undated Correspondence

Box 3 Folder 18-19
A - Z, undated

Family Correspondence (in German)

Maria Wolff (Mayer's mother)

Box 3 Folder 20-23
1929 - 1931
Box 4 Folder 1-7
1932 - 1936
Box 4 Folder 8
Catherine Mayer (Joseph Mayer's mother) to Maria Wolff, 1930 - 1932
Box 4 Folder 9
Hannah Fehler, 1937 - 1968
Box 4 Folder 10
Kathe Fehler, 1937 - 1951
Box 4 Folder 11
Wilhelm Fehler, 1945 - 1962
Box 4 Folder 12
Heinrich Goeppert, 1926 - 1933
Box 4 Folder 13
Otto Goeppert, 1937 - 1941
Box 4 Folder 14
Vera Goeppert, 1950 - 1971
Box 4 Folder 15
Miscellaneous Goeppert family members, undated
Box 4 Folder 16
Margarete Marquardt, 1949 - 1964
Box 4 Folder 17
Niels Marquardt, 1970 - 1971


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 2) REPRINTS, WRITINGS, AND LECTURES. Arranged in three series: A) Reprints, B) Writings and Lectures and C) Writings by Other Authors.

A) Reprints: Reprints in English and German of physics papers written by Maria Mayer from 1925-1965, arranged chronologically.

B) Writings and Lectures: Notes, drafts, reviews, illustrations and correspondence for scientific papers by Mayer; notes and drafts for public talks, including her 1963 Nobel lecture, "The Shell Model;" a biography of Hans Jensen; an obituary for Max Born; a review of Physics in My Generation by Max Born; and a list of physics topics found in Mayer's copy of Dynamische Gittertheorie der Kristalle. Arranged chronologically.

C) Writings by Other Authors: Reprints of "Polarization of High Energy Protons Scattered by Nuclei," 1954 and "Uber die Anwendung der statistischen methode auf die probleme des Atombaues," undated, by Enrico Fermi; and an undated list of publications by Hans Suess.


Box 5 Folder 1-5
1925 - 1965

Writings and Lectures

Box 5 Folder 6

ca. 1931. Item has been removed and added to Rare Book Collection. A list laid into the front of the book is retained in this folder.

Box 5 Folder 7
Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Structure - Reviews and Illustrations, 1955
Box 5 Folder 8
Magic Numbers in Nuclear Structure, UCSD Faculty Lectures

Handwritten draft. September 23, 1960

Box 5 Folder 9
Shell Model, 1963-1964

Drafts, notes, and correspondence for Nobel Lecture given December 12, 1963.

Box 5 Folder 10
Fine Arts Society Lecture, 1964
Box 5 Folder 11
Changing Status of Women as Seen by a Scientist, April 16, 1965

Address to the National Women's Conference, Tokyo, Japan

Box 5 Folder 12
Hans Jensen Biography written for the ENCYCLOPEDIA AMERICANA, 1965
Box 5 Folder 13
Speech to the New Citizens

January 7, 1966

Box 5 Folder 14
Obituary for Max Born

January 1970

Box 5 Folder 15
Book Review for the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICS - Physics in My Generation

By Max Born. Reviewed September 1970

Box 5 Folder 16
On the Abundance and Origin of Elements

With Edward Teller. Undated

Writings by Other Authors

Box 5 Folder 17
Fermi, Enrico

"Polarization of High Energy Protons Scattered by Nuclei," 1954. Also includes "Uber die Anwendung der statistischen methode auf die probleme des Atombaues," undated.

Box 5 Folder 18
Suess, Hans E. "Contributions to Science"



Scope and Contents of Series

Series 3) RESEARCH NOTEBOOKS AND CLASS LECTURES. Arranged in two subseries: A) Notebooks and B) Research Subjects.

A) Notebooks: Ten notebooks with scientific calculations, notes and graphs; and one notebook of poetry written in German. Most of the notebooks are untitled and undated, but include section headings by topic. The notebooks were numbered and removed from three-ring binders during processing.

B) Research Subjects: Calculations, notes, figures, and graphs for physics topics, arranged alphabetically by folder title.


Box 6 Folder 1-3
Notebook One
Box 6 Folder 4
Notebook Two - Miscellaneous experimental
Box 6 Folder 5-6
Notebook Three
Box 6 Folder 7-8
Notebook Four
Box 7 Folder 1-2
Notebook Five
Box 7 Folder 3
Notebook Six - Thermodynamics
Box 7 Folder 4
Notebook Seven - Chaneleer Laboratories, undated
Box 7 Folder 5
Notebook Eight
Box 7 Folder 6
Notebook Nine - Quantum Mechanics III, 1955 Fall
Box 7 Folder 7
Notebook Ten - Class Lecture
Box 7 Folder 8
Notebook Eleven - Poetry

Research Subjects

Box 7 Folder 9
Irrotational Flow
Box 8 Folder 1
Neptunium Hexafluoride
Box 8 Folder 2
Box 8 Folder 3
Quantum Theory
Box 8 Folder 4
Rand Radio Signal
Box 8 Folder 5
Box 8 Folder 6
Transuranic Elements


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 4) TEACHING MATERIALS. Arranged in two subseries: A) University of Chicago and B) UC San Diego.

A) University of Chicago and B) UC San Diego: Lecture notes, course outlines, problem sets and examination questions for physics courses taught by Mayer and by Keith Brueckner. The UC San Diego subseries also includes questions for the Department of Physics candidacy examination and correspondence and notes regarding the proposed undergraduate physics and chemistry curriculum.

University of Chicago, 1947-1956

Box 8 Folder 7
Atomic Physics 231, 1947
Box 8 Folder 8
Physics 241/242, 1947 - 1949

Course outlines and examinations

Box 8 Folder 9
Physics 251 (Thermodynamics), 1949 - 1951
Box 8 Folder 10
Physics 252 (Statistical Mechanics)

ca. 1949

Box 8 Folder 11
Miscellaneous course outlines

UC San Diego, 1960-1970

Box 8 Folder 12-13
Nuclear Physics 213
Box 8 Folder 14
213A - Theoretical Nuclear Physics

Taught by Keith Brueckner

Box 8 Folder 15
213B - Theoretical Nuclear Physics

Taught by Keith Brueckner

Box 8 Folder 16
Advanced Nuclear Physics 222
Box 8 Folder 17
Candidacy examination for the Department of Physics
Box 8 Folder 18
Development of undergraduate curriculum for Physics and Chemistry
Box 9 Folder 1
Miscellaneous outlines and examinations



Scope and Contents of Series

Series 5) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS: Biographical materials are alphabetized by subject and include a subseries of photographs in chronological order. Biographical documents include autobiographies; biographical notes; birth, marriage and death certificates; obituaries; a charcoal portrait of Maria and Joseph Mayer; a genealogical chart; and a report to the UC Regents on UC San Diego professors Harold Urey and Maria Goeppert Mayer. Photographs depict Maria Mayer, her family, and colleagues; scientific conferences; UC San Diego graduate students; and the 1963 Nobel Prize ceremony.

Box 9 Folder 2
Box 9 Folder 3
Biographical Information

Correspondence with biographical reference publishers

Box 9 Folder 4
Birth, Death, and Marriage Certificates / Medical History, 1906-1972
Oversize MC-037-15
Charcoal Portrait of Maria and Joe Mayer, 1966
Box 9 Folder 6
Genealogical Chart
Box 9 Folder 7
Naturalization Documents

U.S. Immigrant Identification Card, February 25, 1930. Naturalization Paper, March 13, 1933

Box 9 Folder 8
Box 9 Folder 9
Photographs - Portraits
Box 9 Folder 10-11

ca. 1920 - 1930

Box 9 Folder 12
Photographs - Heidelberg

February 7, 1951

Box 9 Folder 13
Photographs - Bothe-Festspiele, 1951
Box 9 Folder 14
Photographs - International Conference on Nuclear Structure

September 8-14, 1957 - Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovoth, Israel

Box 9 Folder 15
Photographs - Nobel Prize Ceremony, 1963
Box 9 Folder 16
Photographs - Graduate students at UCSD, 1960 - 1964
Box 9 Folder 17
Photographs - Women in Science Day

February 24, 1964

Box 9 Folder 18
Photographs - Gordon Research Conference

August 23-27,1965, Kimball Union Academy. Meriden, New Hampshire

Box 9 Folder 19
Photographs - At the University of Portland with the Reverend Joseph L. Poivers

June 12, 1968

Box 9 Folder 20
Photographs - Lindau 19, 1968
Oversize MC-037-15
Photographs - Instituts Internationaux de Physique et de Chimie

May 5-10, 1969

Box 9 Folder 22
Photographs - International Conference on Statistical Mechanics, 1968
Box 9 Folder 23
Photographs - Miscellaneous, undated
Box 9 Folder 24
Moon, the atom ... and the urge to know

A special report to the Regents of the University of California, ca. 1968

Box 9 Folder 25


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 6) NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS: Newspaper clippings from 1933-1972, primarily regarding Maria Goeppert Mayer and her scientific career. Arranged chronologically.

Box 9 Folder 26-32
About Maria Goeppert Mayer, 1933 - 1972
Box 9 Folder 33
Miscellaneous clippings not about Maria Mayer
Oversize MC-037-15
Cover of San Diego Evening Tribune announcing "S.D. mother wins Nobel Physics Prize", 1963 November 5


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 7) SUBJECT MATERIALS: Information on scientific organizations and conferences; a research proposal to the Atomic Energy Commission; Mayer's passports, honorary degrees, and employment information; correspondence, news clippings and reprints regarding the 1963 Nobel Prize; and writings by other researchers, including Mayer's father, Friederich Goeppert. Arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Box 9 Folder 34
American Academy of Arts and Science / American Philosophical Society

Statement on U.S. policy in Vietnam

Box 10 Folder 1
Brueckner contract with the Atomic Energy Commission, 1960 - 1971
Box 10 Folder 2
Calling cards/nameplate and telegrams, 1963
Box 10 Folder 3

Daughters of the American Revolution; ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA; University of California Regents

Box 10 Folder 4
Dag Hammarskjold Foundation
Box 10 Folder 5
Financial materials (primarily in German), 1941-1964
Oversize MC-037-15
Box 10 Folder 7
Gottingen University. List of friends and visitors from the U.S., undated
Oversize MC-037-15
HAMBURGER TAGEBLATT, 1935 September 16
Box 10 Folder 9
Heidelberg Conference - Agenda, etc. , 1951
Box 10 Folder 10
Honorary Degrees - Citations and programs

Russell Sage College, 1960; Mount Holyoke College, 1961; Ripon College, 1970.

Box 10 Folder 11
Kanpur Indo - American Program materials
Box 10 Folder 12
National Academy of Science Centennial

Participation/academic costume information

Box 10 Folder 13
National Citizens Organizing Committee for Johnson-Humphrey

Roster of members

Box 10 Folder 14
New Year's Eve Parties, 1952 - 1959

Invitation lists and menus

Box 10 Folder 15-21
Nobel Foundation

Nobel Prize lecture with German translation and publication correspondence; invitations to events in Stockholm; letters of congratulations; newspaper clippings; miscellaneous materials.

Box 10 Folder 22
Nursery School Report for Marianne Mayer
Box 10 Folder 23
Poetry and Prose
Box 11 Folder 1

National Academy of Sciences, 1956; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1962; Women of the Year Awards; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1963; American Academy of Achievement, 1971; Die Tagungen der Nobelpriestager in Lindau, 1971

Box 11 Folder 2
Reprints of works by Maria Mayer's father, Friederich Goeppert, 1920-1925
Box 11 Folder 3
Scientific notes and papers
Box 11 Folder 4
Tanganjika Territory, Poland, inheritance documents
Box 11 Folder 5
Travel Materials -- passports, itineraries, bills
Box 11 Folder 6
University of California - Miscellaneous materials
Box 11 Folder 7
Women's Week in Japan ephemera, 1965
Box 11 Folder 8
Other individual's writings - Max Born
Box 11 Folder 9
Other individual's writings - Johannes Jensen
Box 11 Folder 10
Other individual's writings - Eugene Wigner
Box 11 Folder 11
Originals of Preservation Photocopies

Accession Processed in 1997


Box 12 Folder 1 Oversize FB18801
Alfred Nobel Dinner, Los Angeles, 1964
Box 12 Folder 2 Oversize FB18802
Photographs taken at the time of notification of Nobel Prize Award
Box 12 Folder 3 Oversize FB18901
Women's Week in Japan

Photograph album of Mayer's trip to Japan, April 1965.


Box 12 Folder 4 Oversize FB18803
Awards, certificates and diplomas, 1930 - 1969
Box 12 Folder 5 Oversize FB18804
Pillars of American Freedom Award, 1964
Box 12 Folder 6
Who's Who in the World, 1971 - 1972

Accession Processed in 2015


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 10) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS: Biographical information and awards for Maria Goeppert Mayer and her husband, chemist Joseph Edward Mayer; photographs, correspondence, and news clippings on the dedication of her birthplace in Katowice, Poland; news clippings and a report regarding the Nobel Prize; and diplomas for Maria Mayer's honorary doctor of science degrees and the Nobel Prize.

Box 13 Folder 1
Awards and honors, 1962-1965
Box 13 Folder 2
Biographical information - Maria Goeppert Mayer and Joseph Edward Mayer, 1959-1972
Box 13 Folder 3
Birthplace of Maria Goeppert Mayer, 1995-1996

Photographs and correspondence.

Box 13 Folder 4
Hall, Mary Harrington. "Maria Mayer--The Marie Curie of the Atom." McCall's, 1964 July
Box 13 Folder 5
Honorary Doctor of Science diplomas, 1960-1970
Box 13 Folder 6
James Flack Norris Award - Joseph Edward Mayer, 1969
Oversize FB-188-06
Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year Award, 1962

Silver cup.

Box 13 Folder 7
Mayer, Joseph E. "My Wife's Secret: The Atomic Bomb!", undated
Box 13 Folder 8
Nobel Prize - News clippings and President's Report to the Regents, 1963
Oversize FB-188-05
Nobel Prize diploma, 1963 December 10
Box 15
Nobel medal in presentation case, 1963

Restrictions Apply


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 11) CORRESPONDENCE: Correspondence regarding Mayer's 1963 Nobel Prize and letters of congratulations on the award; requests for autographs, photographs, and biographical information; and one folder of general correspondence. Arranged alphabetically by folder title and chronologically within folders.

Box 13 Folder 9
General correspondence, 1956-1957
Box 13 Folder 10-13
Nobel Prize, 1963-1964

Letters of congratulations and correspondence with the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

Box 13 Folder 14
Requests for autographs, photographs, and biographical information, 1963-1971


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 12) WRITINGS BY MAYER. Arranged in two series: A) Essays and Talks, and B) Notebooks.

A) Essays and Talks: Mayer's opening address for the 1965 National Women's Conference in Tokyo; an untitled talk on women in science; and an essay on physicist Bernd Matthias.

B) Notebooks: Lecture notes and problem sets for classes Mayer taught in thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics from 1935-1950. Arranged alphabetically by title.

Essays and Talks

Box 13 Folder 15
Essay on Bernd Matthias, 1969
Box 13 Folder 16
To the Women of Japan. Opening ceremony address, National Women's Conference, Tokyo, Japan, 1965 April 10
Box 13 Folder 17
Untitled talk on women in science, undated


Box 13 Folder 18
Group Theory and Quantum Mechanics, 1935-1936
Box 13 Folder 19
Mechanics II, 1949 Winter
Box 14 Folder 1
Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Structure, 1947 Spring
Box 14 Folder 2-3
Statistical Mechanics, 1942-1950
Box 14 Folder 4
Thermodynamics, undated


Scope and Contents of Series

Series 13) PHOTOGRAPHS: Photographs of Maria Mayer with Japanese students taken around 1953; portraits of Mayer from 1963; photographs of physicists Bernd Matthias and Hans Suess; President Lyndon Baines Johnson with Mayer and the Republicans for Johnson; and a Physics Today cover featuring Maria and Joseph Mayer.

Box 14 Folder 5
Bernd, Matthias, undated
Box 14 Folder 6
Johnson, Lyndon Baines, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and the Republicans for Johnson, 1964
Box 14 Folder 7
Mayer, Maria Goeppert, 1963
Box 14 Folder 8
Mayer, Maria Goeppert and Joseph Edward. Physics Today, undated
Box 14 Folder 9
Mayer, Maria Goeppert with Japanese students, ca. 1953
Box 14 Folder 10
Periodic Table, undated
Box 14 Folder 11
Suess, Hans, 1982 and undated
Box 14 Folder 12
Unidentified child, 1908