Ernest Rutherford to Gösta Mittag-Leffler

Jan. 16 1910

Professor Mittag Leffler Stockholm

My dear Colleague,

I thank you for sending me the report on the work of Poincaré sent in by his countrymen in support of his candidature for Nobel Prize in Physics. I have carefully looked into this & see that a strong case has been made. No physicist doubts the great mathematical ability of Poincaré or the value of the contributions he has made to Mathematical Physics.

My difficulty in the matter has nothing to do with the question of the eminence of Poincaré in his subject but rather as to the policy to be pursued by the Committee for the Physics Prize. There seems to be a tendency to make the Prize in Physics cover a wide range of subjects. The last prize has been awarded to inventors & workers in technical subjects and I have no doubt strong claims have been founded for astronomers. If all these subjects including Mathematics with occasional reference to Mathematical Physics are to come under the scope of the Physics Prize, it will be exceedingly difficult to do justice to the claims of the physicist proper. The prizes in the other scientific departments will be much easier to obtain than in Physics. This I think is hard on the Physicist & I am not all sure it is wise at the present to unduly extend the scope of the Physics Prize.11 1 Rutherford was not alone in his opposition to Poincaré’s nomination in 1910. Also declining Mittag-Leffler’s invitation to support Poincaré’s nomination, on grounds similar to Rutherford’s, were Arthur Schuster and J.J. Thomson (Crawford 1984, 144–145).

With kind regards, Yours very sincerely,

E. Rutherford

ALS 4p. Mittag-Leffler Archives, Djursholm.

Last edit: 17.11.2013


  • E. Crawford (1984) The Beginnings of the Nobel Institution: the Science Prizes, 1901–1915. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Cited by: footnote 1.