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John N. Bahcall papers


John Norris Bahcall was a world renowned astrophysicist who served on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study from 1971 to 2005. Bahcall's pioneering work on solar neutrinos and the establishment of the Standard Solar Model was crucial to the understanding of the sun. His theoretical predictions, combined with experimental solar neutrino work proved how the sun shines, and resulted in the unexpected discovery that neutrinos have mass, thus requiring new physics. He was a leading force in the development of the Hubble Space Telescope. He was also a leader in the astronomical community and served as President of the American Astronomical Society, Vice President of the American Physical Society, and Chair of the Decadel Survey in Astronomy. The collection includes research files and calculations related to solar neutrinos, the Hubble Space Telescope and other scientific topics, handwritten notebooks, professional correspondence, Bahcall's scientific papers, files from his tenure as president of the American Astronomical Society, and recordings of some of his appearances on radio and television.


  • Majority of material found within 1971-2005
  • 1955-2005


Conditions Governing Access note

Institute administrative records are restricted for 30 years from the date of creation. Letters of recommendation are closed until the death of both the recommender and recommendee. Because only minimal arrangement was done at the time of processing, files will be reviewed at the time of request for these materials.

Conditions Governing Use note

Photocopying from the material will be done for a copy fee from the Archives staff. Researchers are responsible for obtaining copyright permission to use the material from the collection for publication.

Biographical note

John Norris Bahcall was born on December 30, 1934, in Shreveport, Louisiana. Although initially intending to study philosophy and possibly become a rabbi, his interests turned to science and he received his A.B. in Physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1956. He went on to receive an M.S. from the University of Chicago in 1957, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1961, both in physics. He was a Research Fellow in Physics at Indiana University from 1960-1962. He then went to the California Institute of Technology, where he first served as a Research Fellow, then as an Assistant and Associate Professor of Physics from 1962-1970.

Bahcall first came to the Institute for Advanced Study as a Member in the second term of 1968-1969. He continued as a Member in 1969-1970 and was soon asked to join the Faculty of the School of Natural Sciences. He served as Professor from 1971-1997, when he was named the Richard Black Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, a post which he held until his death in August 2005. Throughout his tenure at the Institute, Bahcall was also a visiting lecturer at Princeton University, with the rank of Professor.

Bahcall's pioneering work with solar neutrinos and the establishment of the Standard Solar Model were crucial to the understanding of how the sun shines. His theoretical predictions, combined with experimental solar neutrino work, resulted in the important discovery that neutrinos have mass, thus requiring new physics.

At the Institute for Advanced Study created a top-level astrophysics group, which he led for 35 years. During this period he mentored over 200 outstanding young scientists.

With Lyman Spitzer, Jr., Bahcall led the development of the Hubble Space Telescope, which was first launched in 1990 and has led to many scientific discoveries about space and the universe. His tireless advocacy and work with lawmakers and the public ensured the future of the project. As chair of the National Academy Decade Survey Committee for Astronomy and Astrophysics in the 1990s, he helped set priorities for scientific research. He was a leader of the astronomical community and served the community in various high-level activities. He was president of the American Astronomical Society from 1990-1992 and president-elect of the American Physical Society at the time of his death.

Bahcall received many honors and awards, among which were the NASA Distinguished Service Medal (1992), the National Medal of Science (1998), the Hans Bethe Prize from the American Physical Society (1998), the Dan David Prize (2003), the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics (2003), and the Fermi Medal (2004). He received honorary degrees from a number of universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a fellow of the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Science. Though he never won the Nobel Prize himself (though he was considered a well-deserving candidate for it), his collaboration with Raymond Davis is widely credited with contributing to his Nobel Prize-winning work. Bahcall was a prolific scientist, and authored nearly 500 scientific publications and authored or edited nine books. Bahcall's books include Neutrino Astrophysics (Cambridge University Press, 1989), Solar Neutrinos: The First Thirty Years (ed., Addison-Wesley, 1994), and The Redshift Controversy (Addison-Wesley, 1973).

Bahcall married Neta, a fellow astrophysicist whom he met in Israel and who went on to become a Professor of Astrophysics at Princeton University, in 1966. They had three children, Safi, Dan, and Orli.

John Bahcall died on August 17, 2005, from a rare blood disorder.


46.0 linear feet (87 document boxes, 3 audiovisual recordings boxes, and 1 oversize scrapbook)

Language of Materials


Arrangement note

For the most part, the material has been kept in the original order from John Bahcall's office. Becuase of this, material on a given topic, such as solar neutrinos, can be found across multiple series.

The collection is comprised of 16 series:

Desk Drawer 2

Solar Neutrinos, 1960-1980

Solar Neutrinos, 1980-1990

Solar Neutrinos, 1990s-2005

Hubble Space Telescope

HST Observations of Quasars

Other Scientific Topics

Distinguished Scientists

Bahcall Notebooks

Bahcall Binders and Viewgraphs

Bahcall Scientific Papers

Bahcall Correspondence

American Astronomical Society

Additional Materials Received

Bahcall Interviews and Other Audiovisual Materials

Electronic Files

Additionally there is one series of Institute administrative files, which, according to Institute policy, are closed for 30 years from the date of creation.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

At the time of John Bahcall's death, the papers that remained in his office were packed up and given to the Institute by his family. Several small accessions were received since then. The Solar Neutrinos, 1990s-2005 series was transferred to the Archives in 2009.

Processing Information note

The materials were inventoried at the time of receipt, then rehoused into acid-free boxes and folders. For the most part, materials are in their original order as found in John Bahcall's office. In the interest of making the collection available in a timely fashion, no further arrangement has been attempted.


Guide to the John N. Bahcall papers
Finding aid prepared by Christine Di Bella. Inventory compiled by Kaya Zelasny, Marcia Tucker, and Erica Mosner.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description