Bacher, Robert F. (Robert Fox), 1905-2004

Alternative names
Birth 1905-08-31
Death 2004-11-18

Biographical notes:

Robert R. Bacher (1905-). Physicist (high-energy physics, nuclear energy), California Institute of Technology.

From the description of Papers, 1940-1987. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81716582

Physicist. Cornell University, 1935. During World War II, worked in the radar program at the MIT Radiation Laboratory;Manhattan Project, Head of the Experimental Physics Division, 1943-1944, and head of the bomb physics division, 1944-1945;Member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1946-1949; 1949 Caltech, chairman of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy; 1962 Provost of Caltech; 1969 he was appointed Vice-President. He retired in 1976 and lived in Montecito California, until his death in 2004.

From the description of The Papers of Robert F. Bacher, 1926-1994. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154306217

Physicist (high energy physics, nuclear energy). Major affiliations: Cornell University, 1935-1949; Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Lab, 1941-1945; Los Alamos Laboratory, 1943-1945; Atomic Energy Commission, 1946-1949; California Institute of Technology, 1949-1976 when he became Emer. Prof. of Physics until his death in 2004.

From the description of Oral History interview with Robert F. Bacher, 1966 June 30. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154305396

From the description of Oral History interview with Robert F. Bacher, 1986 February 13. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154305399


Robert Fox Bacher was born in 1905 in Loudenville, Ohio. He attended the University of Michigan, receiving a BS degree in 1926 and a PhD in 1930. His research in the early 1930s focused on spectroscopy and nuclear physics, concentrating on atomic energy states and hyperfine structures. Many of his early papers were collaborative in nature, and included work with Samuel Goudsmit, with whom he coauthored Atomic Energy States in 1932.

In 1935 Bacher joined the faculty at Cornell University, where he concentrated on such subjects as neutron scattering and the development of new techniques for exploring the inner structure of the atom with bubble and cloud chambers. Also, he co-wrote with H. A. Bethe and M. S. Livingston several famous articles on nuclear physics, many of which were republished in Reviews of Modern Physics and which for years remained a standard textbook in the field.

During World War II, he worked first in the radar program at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, under Lee DuBridge. After Robert Oppenheimer urged him to do so, Bacher moved to Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project in 1943. There, he served first as head of the division of experimental physics (1943-1944), then as head of the bomb physics division (1944-1945). As such, Bacher was a key figure in the construction of the atomic weapons that exploded at Trinity site in July of 1945 and then over Hiroshima and Nagasaki the following month.

After the war Bacher returned to Cornell as professor of physics but soon thereafter relocated to Washington to serve as one of the first members of the new United States Atomic Energy Commission. As a member of this new government organization, Bacher participated in many of the meetings of the fledgling United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and therefore played a significant role in the formation of national and international policy concerning the use of atomic energy and nuclear weapons.

In 1949, Bacher finally accepted an offer to come to Caltech as chairman of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, a position that he held for thirteen years. As chairman, he initiated and promoted numerous programs of considerable importance to the Institute, including the construction of the new electron synchrotron which by the summer of 1952 was operating at 500 Mev. Bacher was also responsible for enlisting key members of Caltech's research group in particle physics, led by professors Richard P. Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. He also played a significant part in "Project Vista" in the summer of 1951. Although his time as an experimental physicist dwindled during these years, Bacher nonetheless retained a keen interest in the development of particle physics and ensured Caltech remained at the forefront of the discipline.

In 1961, the Institute realized that it needed a highly-skilled administrator to deal with the increasingly complex activities of the campus. With the blessing of the Divisions, the President and the Board of Trustees, Caltech created the new position of Provost and in 1962 Bacher became its first incumbent. As Provost, his activities centered on the development of the divisions, but also included various venture funds, plans to implement computing resources and faculty ethics. In 1969, Bacher was appointed Vice-president as well, and even after resigning from this position and the provostship his administrative duties remained significant: he was instrumental in the development of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory for radio astronomy, he sat on a number of committees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and he continued to influence many of the important policies at Caltech.

Meanwhile, Bacher's influence outside of the California Institute of Technology remained strong. After resigning from the Atomic Energy Commission, he continued to counsel the President as a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) while he also participated in the activities of a host of corporations and professional organizationsthe American Physical Society, Edison Electric, the Hughes Aircraft company, the Claremont colleges, the National Academy of Sciences, Rand Corporation and the Universities Research Association to name but a few. In addition, Bacher's opinion concerning nuclear power and weapons was sought the world over, and for this reason he remained an important sounding board for such associations as The California Seminar on Arms Control and Foreign Policy and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists . By 1990, however, Bacher had considerably curtailed these activities, and moved to Montecito, California. He died in 2004.

From the guide to the Robert F. Bacher Papers, 1924-1994, (California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives)


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Ark ID:


  • Neutron resonance
  • Manhattan Project (U.S.)
  • Spectrum analysis
  • Arms control
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Accelerators--United States--California
  • Accelerators
  • Nuclear physicists
  • Atomic bomb
  • Radar
  • Nuclear physics
  • Hyperfine structure--Research
  • Nuclear energy--Research
  • Science and state
  • World War, 1939-1945--Science


  • Physicists


  • United States (as recorded)