Cécile DeWitt-Morette

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Cécile DeWitt-Morette
Cécile DeWitt-Morette (left) with Bryce DeWitt (right)
Cécile Andrée Paule Morette

(1922-12-21)21 December 1922
Paris, France
Died8 May 2017(2017-05-08) (aged 94)
Known forÉcole de Physique des Houches
SpouseBryce DeWitt (1951–2004; his death)
AwardsMarcel Grossmann Award
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical physics
Functional integration
InstitutionsDublin Institute for Advanced Studies
Institute for Advanced Study
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Texas at Austin
Doctoral advisorWalter Heitler
Louis de Broglie

Cécile Andrée Paule DeWitt-Morette (21 December 1922 – 8 May 2017) was a French mathematician and physicist. She founded the Les Houches School of Physics in the French Alps. For this and her publications, she was awarded the American Society of the French Legion of Honour 2007 Medal for Distinguished Achievement.[1] Attendees at the summer school included over twenty students who would go on to be Nobel Prize winners,[2] including Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Georges Charpak, and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, who identify the school for assisting in their success.[3]


Cécile Morette was born in 1922[4] and brought up in Normandy, where in 1943 she earned her License des Science from the University of Caen.

Despite her original intention to become a surgeon,[5] she completed her degree in mathematics, physics, and chemistry due to limited opportunities to attend medical school in France during World War II.[6][7]

Following the completion of her bachelor's degree, Morette entered the University of Paris. She was studying there when her mother, sister, and grandmother were killed in the Allied bombing of Caen to support the D-Day landings.[5] In 1944, while still working toward her doctorate at the University of Paris, Morette took a job at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, then under the direction of Frederic Joliot-Curie.[5] She worked as a scholar at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies from 1946 to 1947. In 1947, she completed her Ph.D. (Sur la production des mésons dans les chocs entre nucléons).[8][9]

In 1948 she was invited to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey by Robert Oppenheimer,[3] who had recently become director of the institute.[10] While there, she became interested in Richard Feynman's path integral method for computations in quantum mechanics and worked to make this approach rigorous, which ultimately led to wide applications of the Feynman diagrams and the underlying mathematics.[11] She also met her future husband and scientific collaborator, American physicist Bryce DeWitt while at IAS; the couple married in 1951, and would have four children.[12]

To revitalize French research in mathematics and physics following the war, DeWitt-Morette established a summer school, Les Houches School of Physics, at Les Houches in the French Alps[13] in 1951. She told stories of how she obtained the funding by tricking her way into a minister's office and then persuaded her male colleagues to support the idea by pretending that the idea was theirs.[3]

Morette was to lead this school for the next 22 years. The school was able to list twenty former students or lecturers at the school who went on to become Nobel laureates.[2] The French mathematician Alain Connes, who is a recipient of the Fields Medal, credited the summer school as responsible for his career in mathematics. Nobel laureates Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Georges Charpak, and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji identified the school as helping with their success.[3] In 1958, NATO funded a series of advanced study centres that were based on Morette's summer school.[13] In 1987, Cecile DeWitt-Morette participated in a Quantum Gravity Seminar in Moscow together with her husband.[14]

Bryce DeWitt died in 2004 from cancer. In 2007, DeWitt-Morette was awarded the American Society of the French Legion of Honour 2007 Medal for Distinguished Achievement in New York. She was then the Jane and Roland Blumberg Centennial Professor Emerita of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin.[1]


In 1953 a trustee of the unusual Gravity Research Foundation, Agnew Bahnson, contacted Bryce DeWitt with a proposal to fund a gravity research institute. The proposed name was agreed as the "Institute for Field Physics" and it was established in 1956 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under the direction of Bryce and Morette.[15] "She was an instructor in the department from 1956-1971 but was offered a position at the University of Texas at Austin after UNC failed to promote her despite her significant contributions to physics and the department. The DeWitts then left together with their students in January of 1972."[16]

In 1958 Cécile DeWitt-Morette invited Léon Motchane to see the Institute of Advanced Study in USA[17] which inspired Léon Motchane to establish an institute dedicated to fundamental research in three areas: mathematics, theoretical physics, and the methodology of human sciences upon which he later created the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques.[18]

Expedition to test general relativity[edit]

In 1972 Morette and her husband led an expedition to Mauritania to confirm that light was deflected in line with the theory of general relativity, to improve on Arthur Eddington's 1919 experiment. These measurements were made during the solar eclipse there. Comparison of the pictures with those made six months later confirmed that, in line with theory, light was indeed bent when passing by massive objects.[19] Morette and her husband joined the faculty of the University of Texas in 1972. She began to work increasingly in physics rather than in mathematics, and she became a Professor in 1985.[3]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2007 Professor Cécile DeWitt-Morette was awarded the American Society of the French Legion of Honour 2007 Medal for Distinguished Achievement in New York. She was then the Jane and Roland Blumberg Centennial Professor Emerita of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin.[1]

Selected works[edit]

  • L’Energie Atomique, de Gigord, Paris (1946)
  • Cross-Sections for Production of Artificial Mesons, C. Morette and H.W. Peng, Nature 160 (1947) 59-60
  • Particules Elémentaires, Hermann, Paris (1951)
  • Black holes (Cécile DeWitt-Morette, Bryce Seligman DeWitt, 1973)
  • (With Y. Choquet-Bruhat and M. Dillard-Bleick) Analysis, Manifolds and Physics, (1977)[20]
  • I.T. for Intelligent Grandmothers, (1987)[21]
  • (With Y. Choquet-Bruhat) Analysis, Manifolds, and Physics. Part II. (1989)
  • Quantum field theory: perspective and prospective (1999) ISBN 0-7923-5672-1 (Cécile DeWitt-Morette, Jean-Bernard Zuber, eds.)
  • (With P. Cartier) Functional Integration, Action and Symmetries (2006)[8]


  1. ^ a b c Department of Physics News Archived 2010-06-09 at the Wayback Machine, University of Texas at Austin; accessed 18 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b "The School High in the Alps". Europhysics News. 30 (3). Springer Berlin/Heidelberg: 68. July 1999. doi:10.1007/s007700050127. ISSN 1432-1092.
  3. ^ a b c d e Cécile DeWitt-Morette profile, seniorwomen.com; accessed 18 June 2015.
  4. ^ DeWitt, Bryce (1993). "Cécile Andrée Paule DeWitt-Morette". In Grinstein, Louise S.; Rose, Rose K.; Rafailovich, Miriam H. (eds.). Women in Chemistry and Physics: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook. Greenwood Press. pp. 150–161.
  5. ^ a b c "UT Physics: Cecile DeWitt-Morette". Archived from the original on 13 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  6. ^ "UT Physics: Cecile DeWitt-Morette". Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  7. ^ "UT Physics History: Cecile DeWitt-Morette". Archived from the original on 13 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  8. ^ a b List of publications, University of Texas, accessed 2015-04-19
  9. ^ Cécile DeWitt-Morette at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  10. ^ Rhodes, Richard (October 1977). "'I Am Become Death...': The Agony of J. Robert Oppenheimer". American Heritage. Archived from the original on 7 May 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2008.
  11. ^ Halpern, Paul (June 20, 2017). "From Wartime Devastation To Academic Discrimination, Cecile DeWitt-Morette Overcame It All". Forbes. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  12. ^ "Oral History Transcript: Drs Bryce DeWitt & Cecile DeWitt-Morette". American Institute of Physics. 28 February 1995. Archived from the original on 13 January 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  13. ^ a b "L'Ecole de Physique des Houches (English translation)" (in French). Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  14. ^ Alexei B. Gaina, Some forgotten relativists,15th Marcel Grossmann Meeting, Rome 2018 [1]
  15. ^ Profile, cwp.library.ucla.edu; accessed 18 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Section III". Department of Physics and Astronomy. Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  17. ^ DeWitt-Morette, Cécile. "1948–1950: Snapshots". Institute of Advanced Study. Archived from the original on 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
  18. ^ Jackson, Allyn. "The IHÉS at Forty" (PDF). American Mathematical Society. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  19. ^ Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight: The Bryce S. DeWitt Papers, Kristy Sorensen, accessed March 2010
  20. ^ Ørsted, Bent (1980). "Review: Analysis, manifolds and physics, by Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat, Cecile DeWitt-Morette, and Margaret Dillard-Bleick". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.). 3 (2): 878–885. doi:10.1090/S0273-0979-1980-14837-5.
  21. ^ "IT for Intelligent Grandmothers". Archived from the original on 2018-08-31. Retrieved 2018-05-09.

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