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Frisch, Otto Robert

Order of service for Frisch's memorial & card depicting his "hippopotamouse"

  • An original order of service for physicist Otto Robert Frisch’s memorial at Trinity College Chapel, with a card from his wife, Ulla reproducing Frisch’s charming, Learesque drawing of a “hippopotamouse”. Frisch “liked to sketch, and his doodles at meetings included portraits or caricatures of his colleagues” (ODNB). Inside the card Ulla has written, “Your visits cheered us immensely, Ulla”. The back of the card is printed, “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”, followed by facsimile signatures of Ulla, Tony, and Monica Frisch and the address 22 Worts Causeway, Cambridge, CB1 4RL.

    Otto Robert Frisch (1904-1979) was a key player in the development of nuclear physics and the atomic bomb. Dismissed from his position in Hamburg by the Nazis, he spent five years at Neils Bohr’s laboratory in Copenhagen, “where he applied his technical skills to neutron physics. He collaborated with George Placzek in the study of the slowing down and capture of neutrons in matter, and with Hans von Halban and J. Koch he devised a method to measure the magnetic properties of free neutrons.” (ODNB). Frisch was visiting his aunt, Lise Meitner, during Christmas 1938 when she was told of Hahn and Strassman’s results showing that barium was produced when uranium was bombarded with neutrons. “Frisch and Meitner gave an explanation in terms of the excessive electric charge of the nucleus, and estimated the energy released in the process, for which Frisch proposed the term 'fission'... The implications of fission, particularly the energy release and the possibility of a chain reaction, occupied nuclear physicists intensely. In March 1940 he and Rudolf Peierls wrote what has become known as the ‘Frisch–Peierls memorandum’. This pointed out that a chain reaction was possible in separated uranium-235, that the critical mass would be reasonably small, and that such a chain reaction would release an appreciable part of the available fission energy, causing a powerful explosion” (ODNB). Frisch joined the Manhattan Project and after the war returned to the UK, where he joined the Cavendish Laboratories, being appointed Chair in 1954.

  • Cambridge: Trinity College Chapel, 1979.

    8 page pamphlet, stapled. Woodcut of musical instruments to the cover. With a folded white card decorated with the Hippopotamouse on the front, printed text on the back, and Ulla Frisch’s autograph greetings inside. Also a newspaper clipping reproducing part of a talk given by Frisch shortly before his death. The order of service has minor vertical and horizontal creases from folding, as well as a little creasing at the extremities. Both it and the card are in excellent condition.

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