“Breaking Through: A Century of Physics at Berkeley” tells the story of physics at Berkeley, 1868-1968, – as compelling a tale as there is in the history of science. Consider the initial setting – a frontier university with ambitions as high as the sky – and consider the results – scientists who made a machine to smash the atom, built a bomb that ended World War II, fought to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and won 7 Nobel Prizes in 19 years.

This exhibit, then, recounts parts of this history as revealed in the archives and collections of The Bancroft Library, and intends to suggest rather than fully demonstrate the significance of those collections for research. Several generous colleagues assisted in the preparation of the exhibit, but the curators alone take responsibility for the selections, the interpretations, and the inevitable omissions and errors.

The virtual exhibit is closely based on an exhibit mounted in The Bancroft Library Gallery, April through July 2004, that was prepared as part of the J. Robert Oppenheimer Centennial at Berkeley (April 22-24, 2004). Most of the materials are from the Library’s History of Science and Technology Collections, but several other repositories lent important items from their collections, most notably the Department of Physics, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

David Farrell, Curator, History of Science and Technology Program
Eric Vettel, Post-Doctoral Student, Regional Oral History Office

December 2004

Acknowledgments: Anthony Bliss, Cathryn L. Carson, Marvin Cohen, Catherine Dinnean, Charles B. Faulhaber, Diane Fortner, Sally Hughes, Christopher McKee, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Hall of Science, Physics and Astronomy Library, Physics Department, Virginia Rapp, Howard Shugart, Dean Smith, Alex Wellerstein