Science and Holidays

Share This


November 30, 2020

Science and Holidays

November Photos of the Month

As the holiday season is beginning, we try to keep the balance between being productive and getting ready for the holidays. This year, with the pandemic, we still have to tackle the same concept to keep the work and life balance, with some twist by trying to do it all in one place, at home.

There are two very exciting reasons to celebrate the accomplishments of science these days.  First, the two vaccines of Pfizer and Moderna are bringing us optimism that science can overcome the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Second, the smooth advance of SpaceX’s Dragon spaceflight and the astronauts’ successful arrival at the International Space Station brings new horizons for future space exploration. Many of us have other reasons to celebrate, right? You name your reasons!

When we celebrate, we usually have time to explore the past and gain inspiration for the future. As a rare book project cataloger at Niels Bohr Library and Archives, I am working passionately and carefully on cataloging materials included in the Wenner Collection. Therefore, I have the unique chance to hold in my hands and explore every single book, journal, offprint, or sammelband which contains information on discoveries in physics. Of course this collection has strong connections to other materials at Niels Bohr Library and Archives. I would like to invite you to look at some photographs from Emilio Segrè Visual Archives where science and holidays are intertwined in a very natural way. Many of the physicists in these photos have articles, books, or book chapters at the Wenner Collection, which became part of the Niels Bohr Library and Archives in 2018.


Fleming Lectures at Royal Institution

Fleming Lectures at Royal Institution

Credit: Drawing by F.C. Dickinson, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

In 1825, the Royal Institution of Great Britain began offering the Christmas Lectures, which continue to inspire children and adults alike. These Lectures were initiated by Michael Faraday during the time when science education for young people was limited. Many world-known scientists have given Christmas Lectures there, including Nobel Prize laureates William and Lawrence Bragg, Sir David Attenborough, and Dame Nancy Rothwell. The Christmas Lectures are broadcasted on BBC TV and other TV stations.

The first photo presents a drawing by F.C. Dickinson of the Christmas Lecture “Waves and Ripples in Water, Air and Aether” delivered at the Royal Institution by Sir John Ambrose Fleming. The stage is lit, and all the audience is watching the demonstration. The Wenner Collection includes Fleming’s articles and articles written by others about his scientific impact published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.



Samuel Goudsmit lecturing at the Light and Quanta Lectures, given with H. Robinson, Christmas, Rockefeller Institute, New York

Samuel Goudsmitlecturing at the Light and Quanta Lectures, given with H. Robinson, Christmas, Rockefeller Institute, New York

Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Goudsmit Collection

The tradition of spicing up the holiday season with science enthusiasm was continued and expanded at many universities and research institutions. In the second photograph, Samuel Goudsmit, who was an editor of Physical Review and Reviews of Modern Physics and the founder of Physical Review Letters, is delivering The Light and Quanta lectures, around Christmas at the Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University) in 1963. The Niels Bohr Library and Archives has an extensive collection of Goudsmit archival materials which are complemented by a number of journal issues, some of which are part of the Wenner Collection.



Göttingen Institute Christmas Party

Göttingen Institute Christmas Party

Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Franck Collection

Christmas parties are popular among colleagues in formal or not so formal settings. Here is a photo of the Göttingen Institute Christmas Party around 1923. In the third row are the Nobel Prize winner James Franck and the "father of solid state physics“ Robert Pohl. What a crowd!



Pegram Nuclear Physics Lab Christmas party

Pegram Nuclear Physics Lab Christmas party

Credit:  AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

In this photo, standing around the wooden wine barrel and with raised glasses ready for cheers, are the physicists at the 1957 Christmas party at Columbia University's Pegram Nuclear Physics Laboratory. From left to right there are T. Ivan Taylor (left foreground), William W. Havens, Jr. (left of center), and Bryce Rustad (right foreground).



Skiing Group at Los Alamos

Skiing Group at Los Alamos

Credit: Photograph by Emilio Segrè, AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Segre Collection

Beyond the formal settings, some physicists enjoy winter sports as a group of colleagues-friends. In the photograph above, there is a skiing party near Los Alamos National Laboratory extending the holiday spirit. From left to right: standing are Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Hans Staub, Victor Weisskopf; sitting are Mrs. Staub, Elfriede Segre, Bruno Rossi. Some of their research publications can be found in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, American Journal of Physics, Nature, and other journals at the Library’s Special Collections.



Winter scene on Mount Wilson near Observatory

Winter scene on Mount Wilson near Observatory

Credit:  Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Nature is another place for celebrating the bond between science and the holiday spirit. The view of this snow-covered cabin and pine trees on Mount Wilson near the Palomar Observatory creates a perfect atmosphere to contemplate the beauty of nature and be close to the Hale telescope. This is an extraordinary place to spend quiet and energizing holiday time.



Santa encounters tight security during a visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Santa encounters tight security during a visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Credit: Digital Photo Archive, Department of Energy (DOE), courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

In addition to the wonders of nature, some families and children look forward to a visit from Santa each holiday season. No matter how precious the gifts he has in his bag are, Santa may need to pass serious security checks as he travels. In this photo, he is stopped and searched by security guards at the entrance of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We all deserve happy holidays, so all we can do to secure this is worth it.


About the Author: 

Gergana Kostova

Gergana Kostova is the Rare Book Project Cataloger. She holds an advanced degree in history of literature from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, Bulgaria,  and a master’s of library science from the University of Maryland, College Park. She has a background in electronics and digitization. Here at the Niels Bohr Library and Archives she is cataloging rare books and serials from Wenner Collection. One of her favorite books from the library is Sylva Sylvarum by Francis Bacon.

Caption: Images from Sylva Sylvarum

See all articles by Gergana Kostova

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Each email address will be obfuscated in a human readable fashion or, if JavaScript is enabled, replaced with a spam resistent clickable link. Email addresses will get the default web form unless specified. If replacement text (a persons name) is required a webform is also required. Separate each part with the "|" pipe symbol. Replace spaces in names with "_".
This question tests whether you are a human visitor in order to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.