Notes from the Field – Rebecca Hopman

Today we have our second “Notes from the Field” of the Fall Semester. Each month we’ll bring you a guest post from at least one student where they will describe what they’re doing and learning in their field study. This week we have Rebecca Hopman who is conducting her field study work in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics.

We’d also like to take a moment to remind you–especially as registration draws near–of the Field Study Database, where you can always go to find interesting opportunities for your field study course work OR to find an internship outside your field study coursework. Remember that postings in the “Additional Opportunities” area are typically for specific positions within an organization and have an application period, and those sites in our “Institution List” are continually seeking iSchool students to work with them–They REALLY LOVE iSchool students.

If you’re interested in writing a guest post for blogMLS, field study-related or otherwise, please contact Lindsay Sarin.

And now Notes from the Field

Niels Bohr Library & Archives
American Institute of Physics. Photo courtesy of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives

For my archives field study, I am working in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics. I’m curating an exhibit featuring the archives’ collection of oral history interviews with over 1,500 physicists, astronomers, and other scientists. Right now, staff at the archives are working to digitize all of the transcripts and make them searchable. They plan to have over 1,000 of the transcripts available online by this spring, and want to highlight this valuable and unique research collection.

So far, I’ve spent about half of my field study researching these scientists. I have to say my knowledge of physics and the history of physics is rather lacking (sorry Mr. Kupfer!), but reading these interviews has been like taking a crash course. Yes, some of the terms and ideas these men and women talk about are way over my head, but a lot of their discussions focus more on the human element rather than the physics side of things. I’ve found my favorite part of this research is seeing all the connections between these scientists. The physics world (and related sciences) is like one big family tree: everyone is linked to each other by their teachers, students, colleagues, friends, spouses, and on and on until the entire field is connected in one great web of scientists. Even though I still couldn’t tell you the difference between a mass spectrometer and a cyclotron, I know and appreciate so much more about these incredible people and their work.

I found a lot of recognizable names in the history of science such as Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, James Chadwick, and Sir Rudolf Peierls. But I also discovered amazing people I’d never heard of before. Take Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the English-American astronomer who discovered that the sun is mainly composed of hydrogen. She was quite the firebrand, to all accounts, and didn’t let her gender get in the way of her science. She started out studying physics under Ernest Rutherford, but shifted to astronomy in part because he told his daughter (her close friend), “She isn’t interested in you, my dear; she’s just interested in me.”1 (!) Cecilia became the first person to get a PhD in astronomy at Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard), and took a job with Harlow Shapley in the famed Harvard College Observatory. She also taught at Harvard, and became the first woman to be a full professor from within the faculty in 1956.

Reading Room. Niels Bohr Library and Archives.
Niels Bohr Library and Archives. Photo Courtesy of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

These past few weeks I’ve begun selecting quotes from interviews, finding photographs, and writing captions for the exhibit. I have three exhibit cases to work with – two in the library and one in AIP’s main hallway. I’m also in the process of setting up two social media campaigns in conjunction with the exhibit. For the first, “Voices from the past,” Facebook and Flickr followers can check out photos and quotes from important scientists, including audio clips.

The second campaign (and the one I’m most excited about) is called “Physicists Love Libraries!” While reading through all of these interviews, I noticed a trend: a lot of scientists were mentioning how important libraries were in their lives. Some credited libraries (and librarians!) with instigating their love in reading or in science. Others mentioned the library as a kind of refuge, both in childhood and as an adult. Still others mentioned how important libraries were in their research. I thought it would be great to highlight these connections, so I’m scheduling these quotes to post periodically to Facebook.

If you’re interested, you can find and read transcripts here, and check out NBLA’s Facebook and Flickr pages. I’d also love it if you stopped by the exhibit! I should have it all up by the end of October (AIP is right next to the College Park Metro, find directions here). And make sure to come to the final poster session for the fall field study classes. We’ll be talking about all of our different internships, and you can meet potential internship supervisors. The session is scheduled for Wednesday, December 5th, from 5-7pm on the second floor of Hornbake. We’d be happy to see you there!

Rebecca Hopman



Rebecca Hopman 

1 Interview of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin by Owen Gingerich on March 5, 1968, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA,


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