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BOHM, David Joseph (1917-1992)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1832 BOHM
Held at: Birkbeck College
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Full title: BOHM, David Joseph (1917-1992)
Date(s): 1933-1996
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 16 boxes
Name of creator(s): Bohm | David Joseph | 1917-1992 | Professor of Theoretical Physics


Administrative/Biographical history:

Bohm was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA on 20 December 1917. He studied at Pennsylvania State University, graduating in 1939, then moved to the California Institute of Technology for post-graduate work, completing his Ph.D. in 1943 at the University of California at Berkeley under J R Oppenheimer. He then worked on the Manhattan Project at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. In 1947 he was appointed Assistant Professor at Princeton University. He worked there until 1950, when Princeton refused to renew his contract after he had fallen foul of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. While working at the Radiation Laboratory during the war Bohm had been active in the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians (FAECT) trade union. In 1949, as Cold War tensions increased, the Committee on Un-American Activities began investigating staff who had been working there. As a member of FAECT and as a former member of the Communist Party Bohm came under suspicion. He was called upon to testify before the Committee but pleaded the Fifth Amendment refusing to give evidence against colleagues. After the USSR tested its first atomic device in September 1949 it was thought that atomic bomb secrets must have been passed to the USSR. It was alleged that members of the FAECT had been in a Communist cell working at Berkeley during the war. In 1950 Bohm was charged with Contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions before the Committee and arrested. He was acquitted in May 1951 but Princeton had already suspended Bohm and after his acquittal refused to renew his contract. Bohm left for Brazil in 1951 to take up a Chair in Physics at the University of São Paulo. In 1955 he moved to Israel where he spent two years at the Technion at Haifa. Here he met his wife Saral, who was an important figure in the development of his ideas. In 1957 Bohm moved to the UK. He held a research fellowship at University of Bristol until 1961, when he was made Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College London. He retired in 1987.

Bohm made a number of significant contributions to physics, particularly in the area of quantum mechanics. As a post-graduate at Berkeley he discovered the electron phenomenon now known as 'Bohm-diffusion'. His first book, Quantum Theory published in 1951, was well-received by Einstein among others. However, he was unsatisified with the orthodox approach to quantum theory and began to develop his own approach, expressed in his second book Causality and Chance in Modern Physics published in 1957. In 1959, with his student Yakir Aharonov, he discovered the 'Aharonov-Bohm effect', showing how a vacuum could produce striking physical effects. His third book, The Special Theory of Relativity was published in 1965.

Bohm's scientific and philosophical views were inseparable. In 1959 he came across a book by the Indian philosopher J Krishnamurti. He was struck with how his own ideas on quantum mechanics meshed with the philosophy of Krishnamurti. The two first met in 1961 and over the following years had many conversations or dialogues. Bohm's approach to philosophy and physics are expressed in his 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, and in the book Science, Order and Creativity, written with F D Peat and published in 1987. In his later years, partly through his connection with Krishnamurti, Bohm developed the technique of Dialogue, in which a group of individuals engaged in constructive verbal interaction with each other. He believed that if carried out on a sufficiently wide scale these Dialogues could help overcome fragmentation in society. Bohm led a number of Dialogues in the 1980s and early 1990s, the most well-known being those held at Ojai Grove School in California. Bohm was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990. He died in 1992. See B J Hiley, 'David Joseph Bohm', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 43, 105-131 (1997).


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of David Joseph Bohm, 1933-1996, including obituaries on and tributes to Bohm 1992; material collated by F David Peat, a colleague of Bohm, for a biography, 1993-1994, transcripts of interviews, discussions and dialogues with Bohm, mainly on science, philosophy and spirituality, 1982-1992, including the dialogues led by Bohm at seminars at Oak Grove School, Ojai, California, 1987-1992; articles and papers on Bohm's work by other authors, 1981-1996; material directly recording his life and career, 1933-1990 (comparatively slight but includes papers relating to Bohm's difficulties with the House Committee on Un-American Activities 1949-1951); list of Bohm's publications, 1994; drafts by Bohm of papers and lectures, 1965-1993, mostly unpublished, including some drafts on quantum theory, although the bulk are of a philosophical nature; drafts by F D Peat, 1980-1982, drawing on Bohm's work on quantum theory, which were found with the papers; copies of a few of his published works, 1953-1993; reviews of Bohm's books, 1966-1994; general correspondence, 1950-1993, with some 90 correspondents, including photocopies of correspondence with Albert Einstein c1950-1954 relating to quantum theory as well as Einstein's advice on Bohm's career, and other significant correspondents including R Karnette, H M Loewy and M Phillips; photocopies of correspondence on a wide range of philosophical and scientific subjects with the American artist and theorist Charles J Biederman, 1960-1969.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

By section as follows: Biographical, Drafts, publications and lectures, Correspondence. Index of correspondents. The correspondence is divided into two sections: the first containing general correspondence and the second containing correspondence with C J Biederman.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment. Users should contact the College Librarian or the Science Subject Librarian.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the discretion of the College Librarian or the Science Subject Librarian.

Finding aids:

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of David Joseph Bohm: NCUACS catalogue no. 66/4/97, 53pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Received for cataloguing by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists (NCUACS), University of Bath, in March 1995 from Professor B J Hiley. In February 1997 Dr Olival Freire Jr made available copies of Bohm material held elsewhere, especially in Brazil.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in Birkbeck College 1997.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Other material on Bohm's life and work is held at the Niels Bohr Library, American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics, Maryland, USA; Albert Einstein Archives, Dept of Manuscripts and Archives, Jewish National and University Library, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; papers of Leon Rosenfeld in the Niels Bohr Archive, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark; Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University, Princeton, USA; Columbia Oral History Research Unit, Columbia University, New York, USA.

Publication note:

Bohm-Biederman Correspondence. Volume One: Creativity and Science, ed. Paavo Pylkkanen (London and New York, 1999).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Robert Baxter as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project, based on the collection level description and detailed catalogue of Bohm's papers produced by NCUACS, University of Bath.

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description (2nd edition); National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Apr 2000

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