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Gold, Thomas (1920-2004)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 TG
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Gold, Thomas (1920-2004)
Date(s): 1944-2004
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 28 boxes, 25 lever arch files and 4 volumes
Name of creator(s): Gold | Thomas | 1920-2004 | astrophysicist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Thomas Gold was born, 22 May 1920 in Vienna, Austria. He lived there for the first ten years of his life before moving with his family to Berlin for three years. When he was thirteen, he was sent to Zuoz College, a boarding school in Switzerland. At the age of eighteen, he left for England, where his parents had settled and, at the age of nineteen, just after the Second World War had started, he went to study engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge. In May 1940, he was interned as an enemy alien. During his internment he met Hermann Bondi, a cosmologist and mathematician (1919-2005) with whom he formed a lifelong friendship.

In August 1941, Gold returned to Trinity College and, in 1942, received a BA degree in Mechanical Sciences (an MA degree in Mechanical Sciences from Cambridge University followed in 1946. He became a Doctor of Science at Cambridge University in 1969). Gold then worked for a few months as a farm labourer and lumberjack. In the autumn of 1942, Frederick Hoyle, Director of the theory group (code named Section XRC8) at the British Admiralty's Signal Establishment, hired him, on Hermann Bondi's advice, as an Experimental Officer to work on radar research and development.

Gold worked at the British Admiralty until 1946 before returning to Cambridge University where he applied for a research grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to study ultra sound and its possible use for medical diagnostics. Although the MRC agreed to the grant, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, where he was going to carry out his research, had no space to accommodate him. Therefore his work could not go ahead. Instead, he found another position, also at Cavendish Laboratory, constructing a giant 21cm magnetron for accelerators.

After a few months, Gold went to carry out research into the mechanism of hearing in mammalian ears at the Zoological Laboratory, Cambridge, with Richard Pumphrey, whom he had met during the war. In 1947, he was awarded a prize fellowship from Trinity College for a thesis based on that research and married Merle Eleanor Tuberg, an American astronomer with whom he had three daughters. The marriage eventually ended in divorce. In the late 1940s, he, Hermann Bondi and Fred Hoyle developed the Steady State theory of the expanding universe. In 1949, he became a University Demonstrator in Physics at Cavendish Laboratory. In 1952, he became Chief Assistant to the Royal Astronomer (Senior Principal Scientific Officer) at Royal Greenwich Observatory.

In 1956, Gold moved to America and spent the autumn semester at Cornell University before settling at Harvard University where he became Professor of Astronomy (1957-1958) and then Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Applied Astronomy, Harvard University (1958-1959). In 1957, he received a Master of Arts degree, honoris causa, from Harvard University. In 1959, he returned to Cornell University to become Chairman of its Astronomy Department (1959-1968) and Director of the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research (1959-1981), which he founded. From 1963 until 1971, he was involved in the running of Arecibo Observatory, a facility operated by Cornell University, and home to the world's largest single-dish radio telescope. He was also Assistant Vice President for Research (1969-1971), John L Wetherill Professor of Astronomy (1971-1986) and John L Wetherill Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus (1987-2004).

During his time at Cornell University, his achievements included correctly identifying that pulsars are rotating neutron stars, predicting that the surface of the moon would be covered with a layer of fine-grained rock powder ('lunar regolith' or 'moon dust') and designing the camera that astronauts used to photograph the surface of the moon on the Apollo 11, 12 and 14 missions. Towards the end of his life, he was perhaps best known for his advocacy of the controversial theory that oil and gas deposits are non-biological (abiogenic) in origin. He also proposed that microbial life exists deep beneath the earth's surface, a theory that has been proved correct. These theories resulted in two books, Thomas Gold, 'Power from the Earth: deep earth gas - energy for the future' (London, Dent, 1987) and Thomas Gold, 'The deep hot biosphere - the myth of fossil fuels' (New York, Copernicus Books, 1999).

In 1972, Gold married Carvel Beyer with whom he had one daughter. He died in Ithaca, New York, on 22 June 2004 at the age of 84. By birth, he was an Austrian citizen. He was also a British citizen (through naturalisation in July 1947) and an American citizen (through naturalisation in 1964).

Thomas Gold also held the following academic and non-academic positions: Vanuxem Lecturer, Princeton University (1973); Henry R Luce Professor of Cosmology, Mount Holyoke College, whilst on leave from Cornell University (1975-1976); Commonwealth Lecturer, University of Massachusetts (1975); Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (1978-1979); Visiting Professor, Niehls Bohr Institute, Copenhagen (1980); Welsh Lecturer, University of Toronto (1980); Alexander von Humboldt Professor, University of Bonn, whilst on leave from Cornell University (1982); George Darwin Lectureship, Royal Astronomical Society, London (1982). He was also a member of the Space Sciences Panel of the American President's Science Advisory Committee for seven years and a member of a number of NASA planning committees including the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board.

Thomas Gold was also a Fellow or Member of the following societies: Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, London (10 December 1948). Served on the Council of the Society from 1955 until 1957; Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (8 May 1957); Member of the Cornell University Chapter of The Society of the Sigma Xi (15 May 1960); Fellow of The American Geophysical Union (April 1962); Fellow of the Royal Society (19 March 1964); Member of the National Academy of Sciences (1968); Fellow of the American Astronautical Society (1970). Member from 1970 until 1976; Member of the American Philosophical Society (21 Apr 1972); President of the New York Astronomical Society (1981-1986); Member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

Thomas Gold received the following: John F Lewis Prize, American Philosophical Society (1972); Alexander von Humboldt Prize [1979]; Gold Medal, Royal Astronomical Society, London (1985). He was also given an Honorary Fellowship by Trinity College, Cambridge (1986).


Scope and content/abstract:

The correspondence and papers of Thomas Gold, astrophysicist, 1920-2004. The papers that comprise this collection provide a fascinating insight into Thomas Gold's research, views and life as an academic. They relate to almost very aspect of his career from his work at the Admiralty Signal Establishment, research into the theory of hearing and controversy over his proposal that the surface of the moon would be covered with a layer of fine-grained rock powder, to his advocacy of the contentious theory that oil and gas deposits are non-biological (abiogenic) in origin and his proposal, proved correct, that microbial life exists deep beneath the earth's surface.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Predominantly English, with some German, Swedish, French, Russian and Chinese

System of arrangement:

The collection contains the following correspondence and papers:

TG/1 Thomas Gold letters, 18 Jun 1963-20 Aug 1986
TG/2 Thomas Gold correspondence, 1986-2003
TG/3 Miscellaneous Thomas Gold letters, Dec 1963-Oct 2001
TG/4 Thomas Gold's handwritten notes and equations, 1950-2000
TG/5 Correspondence and papers relating to Thomas Gold's research, Nov 1944-Sep 2004
TG/6 Correspondence and papers about the project to drill for gas and oil in the Siljan Ring, Sweden, Oct 1982-Feb 1995
TG/7 Correspondence and papers regarding efforts by Thomas Gold to influence national policy on manned space flights and CFCs, Jun 1967-May 1996
TG/8 Thomas Gold's unpublished and published papers, Mar 1958-Jun 2003
TG/9 Media coverage about Thomas Gold, Nov 1969-Oct 2003
TG/10 Biographical information about Thomas Gold, 1980s-2000
TG/11 Letters and notices about Thomas Gold’s academic appointments, Nov 1955-Nov 1986
TG/12 Degree, election and award certificates, Jun 1946-Oct 2001
TG/13 Letters praising Thomas Gold, Dec 1975-Jul 2000
TG/14 Letters and papers relating to an Astronomy Symposium held to celebrate Thomas Gold's 60th birthday, 1980-1983
TG/15 Correspondence and papers concerning the campaign to elect Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as Chancellor of Cambridge University, Oct 1950-Jan 1984
TG/16 Annual Reports from the Department of Astronomy and the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University and photocopies of newspaper articles, 1989-2003
TG/17 Miscellaneous papers, Dec 1970-2000
TG/18 Photographs, Aug 1964-Jul 1992

Conditions governing access:

All the correspondence and papers in this collection are open apart from TG/2/27/344 and a fax in TG/2/12. Both of these have been closed until 1 January 2030.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Requests for reproduction should be made to the archivist.

Finding aids:

Catalogue available online at The Royal Society's website

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

These letters and papers were deposited as a gift by Thomas Gold's widow, Carvel Gold in August 2005.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Thomas Gold's published papers have been transferred to Selected Papers [1947-2003] (offprints). These can be found by searching the Library catalogue. A bibliography of Thomas Gold's published papers can be found in TG/8/21. Thomas Gold's election certificate is also available to view at The Royal Society (EC/1964/13).

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description produced by Louise Todd. Collection catalogued by Louise Todd.
The biographical history of Thomas Gold is based on the following sources: Biography of Thomas Gold (TG/1/10/312); Transcript of an interview between Dr Spencer Weart and Thomas Gold, April 1978 (TG/9/1/2); Biographical information about Thomas Gold (TG/10/1); E-mail from Thomas Gold to Dale R Corson, 11 December 1999 (TG/2/47/958); Joseph Bourque, 'Shooting the moon' in Air and Space, April/May 2002, pp 54-61; Obituary of Thomas Gold in 'The Guardian', 24 June 2004; Biographical memoir of Thomas Gold by Hermann Bondi; Simon Mitton, Fred Hoyle - A life in Science (London, Aurum Press Ltd, 2005), pp 75, 94-95.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Catalogued January - May 2006.

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