Project Scope

What will be in the archive?

The Gravity Archive will hold a comprehensive record of one of the most revolutionary periods of development in the history of science, which led to our modern understanding of the Universe. Rooted in Albert Einstein’s Theory of Gravity, this revolution began in the late 1950s. It continues today, propelled forward by advances in both theory and observation.

From its inception, the Archive will contains extensive information. It includes the Michael Wright Archive, which includes 1.3 million pages of documents, as well as 30,000 hours of audiovisual recordings of lectures, interviews, and conferences.

The archive will grow to include unpublished papers, journals and scientific diaries, lecture notes, and correspondence from many others involved in the gravity revolution. We plan to digitize all existing material, and also to conduct extensive interviews with many of the protagonists.

Such a comprehensive project has never been attempted before. It will constitute the largest physics archive in the world. All of this material will be publicly available online.

The Research Centre

The partners are also planning a new interdisciplinary Research Centre based at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The wealth of documents and records in the gravity archive will provide material for scholarly research for many decades to come.

Much of it may also be of interest to the general public.

The opportunities to delve deep into the history and philosophy of science through such an extraordinary collection will inspire researchers and students around the world. This will be the first time that such a detailed picture of this important chapter in the history of science will be available. The mental processes, the collegial interactions, the collaborations and the evolution of ideas will be laid bare in ways never seen before.

Key activities will include editing and annotating papers, journals, and correspondence, and transcribing the enormous corpus of audiovisual material. There will also be a program devoted to interviewing scientists, philosophers, and historians in the field. Most important, the centre will provide an intellectual home for a multidisciplinary mix of full-time UBC faculty, long-term and short-term visiting researchers, and post-doctoral fellows.

From the outset, the Archive is planned as a collaboration between scientists, historians and philosophers.

Many of the scientists involved in the gravity revolution are still alive and involved in research. The visitor program will allow them to mix with historians and philosophers of science. The Research Centre will also facilitate collaboration with the Pacific Institute for Theoretical Physics, which already has its own visitor program, as well as a strong research group in gravity and astrophysics.

Project Highlights

The early audio recordings include most of the lectures and notes, belonging to Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, and other important figures working in the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s – the very era when they were revolutionizing understanding of gravity, and developing modern ideas about black holes.

These recordings contain an extraordinarily complete record of research conferences held throughout the Western world, as well as thousands of seminars.

We are making archival-quality scans of some 55 notebooks and journals belonging to Roger Penrose. His journals chronicle 60 years of his intellectual development going back to his days as a student. They not only contain the development of almost all of his ideas in mathematical and physics, but also display many of his artistic ideas in the form of sketches and drawings. Penrose’s contributions to science over this period famously contributed to our modern understanding of black holes, the Big Bang, quasars, the cosmic microwave background radiation and other astounding phenomena.

Video recordings of more than 50 interviews carried out over a 12-yr period by Philip Stamp and Bill Unruh with a large number of scientists as well as philosophers and historians of science. These range from 2 to10 hours in length, and typically take the form of extended discussions between the participants.

The Penrose papers will be accompanied by extensive video of discussions with Roger Penrose, focusing on specific topics in the notebooks, as well as general themes in his career. Twenty hours of such discussions have now been recorded, involving Penrose speaking with physicists, historians and philosophers familiar with his work.
We’re following a similar model with many of the other figures in the field, with recordings already underway.

Over the next four years, we will digitize, catalogue and publish the Wright archive. This archive includes the most important scientific meetings in this field from the past 50 years, as well as many significant seminars, lectures, and accompanying notes going back the beginning of the 1970s.