Scope and Content of Collection
Title: William Thompson Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 410
Mandeville Special Collections Library
La Jolla, California 92093-0175
Language of Material:
9.6 Linear feet
23 archives boxes and 2 oversize file folders
Date (inclusive): 1963 - 1995
Papers of William Bell Thompson, physicist, researcher, professor, editor, and administrator. Thompson did pioneering work
in plasma physics and established the field at Oxford University and the University of California, San Diego. He did theoretical
and applied work in controlled thermonuclear research and brought several of his other interests together with research on
tethers in space. The papers document Thompson's career at UCSD and include correspondence, journal articles, reports, notes,
lectures, grant proposals (1981-1991), teaching material, and subject files.
Scope and Content of Collection
The William Thompson Papers provide a representative selection of his work in physics as researcher, teacher, editor, and
administrator, principally during his twenty-five years (1965-1990) with the Physics Department at UCSD. The material is arranged
in eight series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, 2) CORRESPONDENCE, 3) WRITINGS, 4) LECTURES AND TALKS, 5) CONTRACTS, GRANTS AND
PROPOSALS, 6) TEACHING MATERIAL, 7) SUBJECT FILES, and 8) FRAGMENTS AND UNIDENTIFIED MATERIAL.
SERIES 1: BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL
Most of the items in the BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL series relate to Thompson's academic career and include standardized forms
and statements, reports on research and sabbatical activities. There are newspaper articles on his departure from the United
Kingdom and an account of genealogical research into the Ginniff side of the Thompson family written by H. Stanley Thompson.
SERIES 2: CORRESPONDENCE
The majority of letters in the CORRESPONDENCE series are from Thompson's graduate students and colleagues and date from the
period 1980-1990. Thompson had worked under Leopold Infeld as a graduate student in Canada and later followed the news of
Infeld's problems with the Canadian government, referred to in correspondence with Infeld's son. Leopold Infeld sent Thompson
the satirical "Aftermath Script."
SERIES 3: WRITINGS
The WRITINGS series is arranged in two subseries: A) Journal Articles, Reports and Papers; and, B) Notes.
A) The Journal Articles, Reports and Papers subseries contains many of Thompson's research articles, review articles, book
chapters, research reports, and unpublished papers, all interfiled alphabetically by title. Among these are numerous reports
written for the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) in the United Kingdom. Chronological lists of Thompson's work
at UCSD and for the AERE are located at the beginning of the subseries.
B) The Notes subseries contains notes on lectures and conferences he attended, books and articles he read, and topics related
to his research. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by title.
SERIES 4: LECTURES AND TALKS
Thompson gave presentations on his research and teaching interests to audiences of peers, students in disciplines other than
physics, and the general public. These materials are arranged alphabetically by title and consist of outlines, notes, overhead
transparencies, and texts.
SERIES 5: CONTRACTS, GRANTS AND PROPOSALS
This series documents the core areas of Thompson's research in plasma physics and tethers in space. The material is arranged
in six subseries: A) Cal Space/Martin Marietta, B) National Aeronautics and Space Administration, C) National Science Foundation,
D) United States Atomic Energy Commission, E) United States Department of Energy, and F) Proposals. Spanning a decade (1981-1991),
each subseries is arranged chronologically. Material in the first five subseries generally consists of a copy of the proposal,
progress reports on research and correspondence. The final subseries, Proposals, contains drafts that were not submitted or
SERIES 6: TEACHING MATERIAL
The TEACHING MATERIAL series is arranged in two subseries: A) Course Outlines and Lecture Notes and B) Slides. The first subseries
is arranged by course number and then chronologically. In addition to a range of physics courses at the undergraduate and
graduate levels, Thompson also taught in interdisciplinary programs making connections between science and current social
concerns. The Slides, unlabeled, illustrate laboratory facilities, equipment and fusion reactors.
SERIES 7: SUBJECT FILES
The SUBJECT series contains Thompson's topical files on tethers, tsunamis, the Society for Scientific Exploration, and a conference
entitled "Evaluation of Current Trends in Fusion Research;" he was an editor for the conference papers.
SERIES 8: FRAGMENTS AND UNIDENTIFIED MATERIAL
Untitled fragmentary writings and notes, instructional material lacking course numbers and unassociated overhead transparencies
are gathered in this series.
William Bell Thompson was born February 27, 1922, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was trained at Canadian universities, receiving
his B.A. in physics and mathematics in 1944 and his M.A. in physics in 1947 from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
In 1950 he received his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Toronto, Ontario, and went to England to take
up an appointment as Senior Fellow in the Theoretical Physics Division at Harwell, the laboratory of the United Kingdom Atomic
Energy Authority. When a separate facility, Culham Laboratory, was set up for fusion studies, Thompson moved there and remained
until his election to the Chair of Theoretical Plasma Physics at Oxford University in 1963.
Thompson first came to the University of California, San Diego, in 1961 as a visiting professor from Culham. In 1965 he was
invited to join the new San Diego campus as a founding member of the Physics Department. He spent the next twenty-five years
at UCSD, combining research, supervision of doctoral research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities; he was chairman
of the department from 1969 to 1972. He retired in 1990.
Thompson's career focused on the development of the theory of plasma physics and its applications in controlled thermonuclear
research. He worked in the areas of magnetic fusion, magnetohydrodynamics, the calculation of transport coefficients, heating,
instabilities, diffusion, relativistic kinetic theory, counterstreaming plasmas, resonances, toroidal systems and guiding
center plasmas in two dimensions. He was also interested in other fields: terrestrial magnetism, planetary dynamics, antimatter,
space science, and oceanography. He combined many of these areas in research projects on tethers.
Thompson extended his commitment to teaching beyond his physics laboratories and classrooms. He gave talks and lectures to
a range of audiences, participated in interdisciplinary seminars for undergraduates and wrote review articles for his colleagues
in other areas of physics.
William B. Thompson died in 1995.
William Thompson Papers, MSS 410. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE: ALLOW ONE WEEK FOR RETRIEVAL OF MATERIALS.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Domínguez, Homero Jiménez
Infeld, Leopold, 1898-1968
Morrison, Philip J.
University of California, San Diego -- Faculty -- Archives
University of California, San Diego -- History -- Archives
Physics -- Study and teaching