Otto Robert Frisch's Hippopotamouse

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.

Laura Massey
Laura Massey


Alembic founder Laura Massey holds a bachelor's degree in the history of science from Georgia Tech and a master's in book history (focusing on medieval and early modern scientific and medical books,) from the Institute of English Studies at the University of London. She has worked as a cataloguer, bookseller, and blogger in libraries and bookshops in the United States and Britain.