Information for Researchers
Scope and Content
Collection Title: Leonard Benedict Loeb Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1916-1970
Collection Number: BANC MSS 73/6 c
Loeb, Leonard Benedict, 1891-
Number of containers: 23 boxes
Linear ft.: 11.5
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Abstract: Letters written to Loeb and copies of letters by him; notes; biographical sketches; speeches; clippings, etc. primarily relating
to his research work in the field of gaseous discharge physics and his teaching career at the University of California, Berkeley,
Department of Physics. Included are some letters written to his parents from France during World War I, describing his work
on spark plugs.
Information for Researchers
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts
must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft
Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which
must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Leonard Benedict Loeb Papers, BANC MSS 73/6 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Leonard Benedict Loeb was born September 16, 1891 in Zurich, Switzerland. He is the son of the famous German biologist Jacques
Loeb and Anne Leonard, a descendent of a colonial American family. His early life was spent in Chicago, Illinois and Berkeley,
California, in the stimulating intellectual and social circle of his parents.
Loeb attended the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University before receiving his B.S. in 1912 in organic
chemistry from the University of Chicago. Impressed with the lectures of Robert A. Millikan, in 1913 he switched his attention
to physics. In 1916 he received his Ph.D. in physics under Millikan from the University of Chicago. His thesis was on measuring
the mobility of gaseous ions in high electrical fields. He had attempted to measure the break-up of the gaseous ions but found
that in the fields he measured, they didn't break-up. This observation left so much to be clarified that it began for him
a lifetime of research in the field of gaseous electronics.
After working for the U.S. Bureau of Standards for a year, he went overseas in January 1918 with the U.S. Expeditionary Force
to work on spark plugs for airplanes. He returned to the United States in 1919 after having worked for a short period in the
laboratories of Jean Perrin in Paris and Ernest Rutherford in Manchester.
In 1923 he began two long-lasting associations. He accepted an assistant professorship in the Department of Physics at the
University of California, Berkeley and was commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
By 1929 he was made a full Professor. He took an active part not only in teaching and writing basic texts but, also, in departmental
The 1930s were very productive years for Loeb both in his research work and in his publishing. He and his graduate students
did original work in the fields of ion and electron mobilities, electron attachment and negative ion formation, recombination,
ionization by electron impact and second Townsend coefficients. In 1936 he began what was to become an intensive study of
coronas and discovered the streamer spark mechanism.
During the second World War he was assigned by the Navy first to the Naval Proving Ground at Dahlgren, Virginia, to work on
armor plate and projectiles, and then to the Degaussing School at San Francisco, California. Despite his absences from the
University, the assignments during these years didn't slow his publishing activities, nor did they prevent him from supervising
his graduate students.
Upon his return to the University after the war, he resumed his duties as a student advisor and worked to get the Physics
Department functioning at a normal level. Interest in gaseous electronics declined in the post war years, but he continued
to publish and to attract new graduate students even after his retirement in 1959. In 1964 he became associate editor of the
Journal of Geophysical Research and in 1965 published a book on electrical coronas. He died in Monterey, California in 1978.
Scope and Content
The Loeb collection came to The Bancroft Library in July 1972 as a gift of Professor Loeb, consisting of twenty-three boxes
of correspondence and related papers. It includes letters addressed to Loeb; copies of letters written by him; notes; biographical
sketches; Papers and reports by Loeb and his students; reviews of articles and of students' work; job recommendations; speeches;
clippings; reprints and tables. The papers cover a wide range of subject matter including research on spark breakdown and
gaseous discharge phenomena; personnel and projects at some U.S. Navy research installations; the Physics Department of the
University of California, Berkeley; inquiries from lay-scientists; lightning; static electrification; scientific frauds; spark
plug developments; degaussing; his consultant work; and family and personal matters.
While his activities at the University of California, Berkeley are well documented, there is little material on his tours
of duty during the second World War with the Naval Proving Ground and the Degaussing School.
Further information about Loeb is available in
Autobiography of Leonard B. Loeb which was prepared for the Project on the History of Recent Physics in the United States of the American Institute of Physics,
March 1952. It is cataloged as C-D/5184.