Otto Robert Frisch's Hippopotamouse

August 21, 2019

This charming, Edward Lear-esque drawing of a "hippopotamouse" isn't by an illustrator or humour writer, but a nuclear physicist! Otto Robert Frisch (1904-1979) contributed to the discovery of nuclear fission and developed the concept of a nuclear chain reaction leading to an explosion. He was a key member of the Manhattan project, and after the war joined the Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge, becoming chair in 1954.

Frisch “liked to sketch, and his doodles at meetings included portraits or caricatures of his colleagues”. This "hippopotamouse" was reproduced on cards that Frisch's wife Ulla sent to family and friends after his death. The back of the card reads, “Many thanks for the kindness and concern that you have shown us. As we wish him to be remembered rather than mourned we’re sending you this ⁠— a sample of the many things he had up his sleeve”.

Inside the card Ulla has inscribed, "Your visits cheered us immensely, Ulla".

The card comes together with the order of service for Frisch's memorial at Trinity College Chapel on November 3rd, 1979.