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Collection Level Description: Correspondence and papers of Charles Alfred Coulson, FRS

Reference: MSS. Coulson 1-175
Title: Correspondence and papers of Charles Alfred Coulson, FRS
Dates of Creation: 1905-1978
Extent: 175 boxes
Language of Material: English

Administrative/Biographical History

Charles Alfred Coulson, mathematician, physicist, theoretical chemist, and religious writer, was born in Dudley in 1910. There he attended two local schools before his family moved to Bristol, where he attended XIV Preparatory School and Clifton College.

In 1928 Coulson gained a scolarship in mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. He obtained a first class in the mathematics tripos and then a first class in the natural sciences tripos. In 1934 he was elected to a four-year prize fellowship, where he worked under R.H. Fowler and later under J.E. Lennard-Jones. It was with Lennard-Jones' encouragement that Coulson made substantial progress in molecular orbital theory. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1936.

In 1938 Coulson was appointed senior lecturer in mathematics at University College, Dundee. In the same year he married Eileen Florence Burrett; they subsequently had two sons and two daughters. He remained in Dundee during the war years as he was a life-long pacifist and conscientious objector.

In 1945 Coulson accepted an ICI fellowship and moved to the Physical Chemistry Laboratory in Oxford. In 1947 he was awarded the chair of theoretical physics at King's College, London. He was elected a fellow of The Royal Society in 1950.

After the sudden death of E.A. Milne, he returned to Oxford where he took the Rouse Ball chair of mathematics and a fellowship at Wadham College. At the same time he was instrumental in organizing the new Mathematical Institute at Oxford, completed in 1963. In 1972 he became the first professor of theoretical chemistry in Oxford. He died in 1974.

Coulson was a deeply religious man, with strong humanitarian beliefs. In 1929 he was accredited as a Methodist lay preacher. He served as a member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches, 1962-1968, and was chairman of Oxfam, 1965-1971.

His books include Waves, Electricity, Valence and Science and Christian Belief, and authored or co-authored over 400 research papers.

Scope and Content

The collection deals primarily with Coulson's career from about 1930 until his death in 1974, but includes some earlier material relating to the Coulson family, especially relating to his father. The collection includes correspondence, both scientific and personal, scientific and mathematical working papers, including lectures and publications, and papers relating to scientific committees, societies, journals and conferences. Also incudeded are religious, humanitarian, and pacifist writings, including his many sermons.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were received from Mrs. Eileen Coulson (widow) who had assembled them from Coulson's Department, his study at home, and other sources.

Access Conditions

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Finding Aids

A fuller description and detailed index are available in the Library and at The National Archives.

Access Points





Coulson | Charles Alfred | 1910-1974 | mathematician, physicist, theoretical chemist, and religious writer


University of Oxford

World Council of Churches

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