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Gertrude S. Goldhaber Collection

Identifier: AR 25820 A

Scope and Content Note

The Gertrude Goldhaber papers consist of mainly professional papers of nuclear physicist Dr. Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber (1911-1998), who made significant discoveries in physics, helped to advance the field of nuclear and particle physics for women, and developed educational opportunities for students and early-career scientists. The collection is comprised of professional correspondence with other scientists as well as government officials, research files, materials related to conferences and lectures, including notes, agendas, pamphlets, programs, and financial and travel materials, applications, clippings and article reprints, Dr. Goldhaber’s research notes, meeting minutes, charts and graphs, diagrams, forms, transparencies, photographs, glass slides, manuscripts and publications by Dr. Goldhaber and others, and materials related to various organizations with which she was involved.

Most of the collection concerns Dr. Goldhaber’s professional life as a research physicist, lecturer, and member of various scientific organizations, such as the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, the National Science Foundation, and National Academy of Sciences. Additionally, the collection contains a few folders of Maurice Goldhaber’s professional papers. There are also some personal materials, including correspondence, calendars and diaries, expired passports, educational records, notebooks, and the contents of two card indexes, one for social engagements that the Goldhabers hosted and were invited to, and one for books. Part of the collection dates from her life and career in Germany, where she completed her primary schooling and Ph.D., and in England, where she did post-doctoral work. The majority of the collection materials date from after her immigration to the United States in 1939, particularly after the family moved to Long Island and Gertrude had a regular paid job at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The collection dates from 1920-2007 with the bulk of the materials from the 1950s-1980s. The materials are in English with some German and French, mostly correspondence and scientific publications. There are a few documents in Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Hebrew, Chinese, Danish, Japanese, and Turkish, mainly related to trips and conferences held in those countries.


  • 1920-2007
  • Majority of material found within 1950s-1980s


Language of Materials

This collection is mostly in English, with some German and French, and a few documents in Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Hebrew, Chinese, Danish, Japanese, and Turkish.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact: Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011 email:

Biographical Note

Gertrude Scharff was born in Mannheim, Germany on July 14, 1911, the elder daughter of Otto Scharff and Nelly (Steinharter) Scharff. Gertrude displayed an interest in physics and mathematics from a young age, which her parents supported, although her father did at one point want her to become a lawyer. The family moved to Munich when Gertrude was 5 years old. She passed her examination at the Munich Realgymnasium in the spring of 1930, after which she began studying experimental and theoretical physics, mathematics and chemistry at the University of Munich. While studying at the University of Munich, she also spent several semesters at the University of Freiburg, the University of Zurich, and the University of Berlin. She then returned to the University of Munich, where she undertook her doctoral thesis research in Walter Gerlach’s laboratory. She completed her Ph.D. in experimental physics summa cum laude in June 1935 and published her dissertation on the effects of stress and high temperature on the magnetic qualities above the Curie point of nickel in 1936.

After the Nazi party gained power in 1933, Gertrude’s parents moved to Switzerland, but they ultimately returned to Germany and died during the Holocaust in November 1941. Gertrude’s younger sister, Liselotte, escaped to France and Gertrude herself was able to escape to London in 1935. At first, she had difficulty finding work in England, where there were positions for refugee students but not for refugee scientists, so she did translation work. She wrote to 35 other refugee scientists in England in an attempt to find work, but only Maurice Goldhaber, whom she had previously met as a student at the University of Berlin, wrote back with any positive suggestion, that she might be able to find a job at Cambridge University. Gertrude instead found a post-doctoral position at the University of London's Imperial College in George Paget Thomson’s laboratory, where she needed to quickly change her focus to particle physics, working on oxide formation on iron surfaces using electron diffraction. She held this post-doctoral position from 1935-1939.

Maurice Goldhaber moved to Urbana, Illinois to become a physics professor at the University of Illinois in 1938. Maurice and Gertrude were married on May 24, 1939, after which Gertrude joined Maurice in Urbana. Unfortunately, the state of Illinois had such strict anti-nepotism laws that Gertrude was not allowed to receive a salary from the university because Maurice worked there, nor could she have her own laboratory space. She therefore had to work as an unpaid assistant in Maurice’s nuclear physics laboratory, where she did experimental physics work on neutron-proton and neutron-nucleus reaction cross sections and gamma radiation emission and absorption by nuclei. In 1942 she discovered that spontaneous nuclear fission is accompanied by the release of neutrons, although this discovery was kept secret until 1946, after World War II had ended. While in Illinois, Gertrude and Maurice had two sons, Alfred in 1940 and Michael in 1942. Gertrude was elected as a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1947, after which the University physics department eventually gave her some money to support her research. She became a research assistant professor in 1948 and around the same time Gertrude and Maurice together established the identity of beta particles with atomic electrons.

In 1950 the Goldhaber family moved to Long Island where both Gertrude and Maurice joined the staff at the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Gertrude was the first woman with a Ph.D. in physics on the Brookhaven faculty. Gertrude started as an associate physicist, her first regular long-term, paid position since she had received her doctorate in 1935. She was promoted to physicist in 1958 and senior physicist in 1962. Her work at Brookhaven consisted of both theoretical and experimental work, focusing mainly on systematizing the properties of nuclear energy levels across the entire periodic table and researching nuclear structure. She was also involved in developing the phenomenological variable moment of inertia (VMI) model, starting in 1969, and developed three-dimensional plots of data. She plotted the energy of the lowest nuclear excitation against the number of protons and the number of neutrons in the nucleus, using wooden bars to help others understand her research visually. Such work is now quite common but is done with computer modeling.

In addition to her research, Gertrude was involved with many committees and organizations. She started the monthly Brookhaven Lecture Series in 1960, which invited scientists from the BNL and other laboratories to share their research with colleagues across the scientific community. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1972, where she was only the third female physicist elected; worked for several organizations concerned with nuclear data; was a member of the American Physical Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Physics in 1971; a member of the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee for the Physical Sciences; and was on the Board of Trustees of Universities Research Association, Inc. She was also deeply involved in promoting science education at all levels, for young children, high school and college students, members of the non-scientific public, and early-career researchers, particularly girls and women. This included her position as an American Physical Society councilor and chair of its panel on Pre-College Physics Education, her work to bring children and students to visit the Brookhaven labs, and her founding of a training institute for local science and mathematics teachers on Long Island. In 1979, Gertrude was a co-founder of the Brookhaven Women in Science. She was also an advisor and consultant at the National Research Council's human resources Committee on the Education and Employment of Women in Science and Engineering (CEEWISE) and the National Academy of Sciences' committee on human rights.

Gertrude was forced to retire from Brookhaven in 1977 at the age of 66, as was the policy at Brookhaven National Laboratory, although Maurice did not retire until 1985 at age 74. She held adjunct professorships at Cornell University and Johns Hopkins University in the 1980s and continued to do research. She received the Long Island Achiever's Award in Science in 1982 and the 1990 Outstanding Woman Scientist Award from the New York Chapter of the Association for Women Scientists. Gertrude served as a Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar in 1984-1985, which sent her to eight university campuses. In 1985 she returned to Brookhaven as a research collaborator, where she stayed until 1990. Gertrude S. Goldhaber died February 2, 1998, after a long illness.


18.25 Linear Feet


The Gertrude S. Goldhaber Collection, which forms part of the larger Maurice and Gertrude Goldhaber Collection, consists of mainly professional papers of nuclear physicist Dr. Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber. The collection is comprised of professional correspondence, research files, materials related to conferences and lectures, clippings and article reprints, research notes, transparencies, photographs, glass slides, manuscripts and publications, and materials related to various organizations with which Dr. Goldhaber was involved. There are also some personal documents, including correspondence, calendars and diaries, and educational records.


Dr. Goldhaber created her own filing system for her papers and made a folder list with 17 categories in 1976, which she updated into the mid-1980s. This folder list can be found in Box 18, folder 16. This arrangement system has been maintained, other than categories for which no folders were found. Most categories were not arranged in any original order, although many are loosely chronological. Series X: Correspondence is arranged alphabetically, Series VI: Talks by Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber and Series VIII: Conferences and Trips are arranged chronologically. Folders that do not appear in her list were put into fitting series. These folders are generally placed at the end of the series and arranged chronologically, other than those in Series V: Research in Progress, which mostly come at the beginning of the series, as they are dated earlier than the folders found in her list. Some folders from her list were not found in the collection.

The collection is arranged in 14 series.

  1. Series I: Order Slips and Isotope Lists, 1948-1950
  2. Series II: Talks and Conferences, 1935-1988
  3. Series III: Isotope Chart, 1952-1972
  4. Series IV: Miscellaneous, 1943-1996
  5. Series V: Research, 1943-1983
  6. Series VI: Talks by Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber, 1949-1987
  7. Series VII: Manuscripts and Reprint Requests, 1935-1988
  8. Series VIII: Conferences and Trips, 1950-1988
  9. Series IX: American Physical Society, American Institute of Physics, 1942-1988
  10. Series X: Correspondence, 1944-1989
  11. Series XI: Personal and Insurance, 1920-2007
  12. Series XII: Activities Connected with Other Institutions and Nationwide Problems, 1933-1989
  13. Series XIII: Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1956-2006
  14. Series XIV: Brookhaven Lectures, 1960-1988

Other Finding Aid

Corene Wood prepared preliminary folders lists at SUNY Stony Brook in 2010.

Related Material

There is a portrait of Gertrude with her mother Nelly and her sister Liselotte as part of the LBI Art and Objects Collection, 2017.15.

The LBI Archives holds the Kress-Heinemann Family Collection (AR 25732), which contains a family tree of Gertrude’s daughter-in-law Suzan's family.

The AJHS library holds A Festschrift for Maurice Goldhaber, QC780.G55.

Separated Material

Three wooden rulers were discarded.

Processing Note

The collection has been rehoused in archival boxes and legal-sized folders. Duplicates have been discarded. Most of the folders had titles and numbers corresponding to Dr. Goldhaber’s filing system and some of the folders were dated, either on the folder or in the folder list now found in Box 18, folder 16. These folder titles were maintained and occasionally expanded in order to add more information and clarity. Folders were given more precise dates when possible. Two card indexes have been removed from their boxes and put into an archival box, along with a box of glass slides.

Guide to the Gertrude S. Goldhaber Collection, 1920-2007 (bulk 1950s-1980s) AR 25820 A
Processed by Rachel S. Harrison
Language of description
Script of description
This collection was processed in part with funding from a grant from the American Institute of Physics.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States