Katherine Sopka

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Katherine Sopka (born Katherine J. Russell) was a science interviewer, physics professor and historian of physics. She is known for her interviews held with leading scientists,[1] and for work on the history of quantum physics and the physics community in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s.


Katherine was born fourth of six children in Dorchester, Boston, and attended Girl's Latin School in Boston. She studied at Radcliffe College, where she obtained her bachelor's degree in physics.

She married John J. Sopka in 1943, and the couple subsequently moved to Dayton, Ohio, where her husband worked with the Manhattan project until the end of the war. They both intended to complete their graduate degrees and returned to Harvard, where Katherine earned her masters degree in physics and John his Ph.D. in mathematics.[2]

Sopka taught physics at Newark State Teachers College and later at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU). There she worked with Frank Oppenheimer and David Hawkins on developing a curriculum for physics instruction in relation to a project of the Physical Science Study Committee.[2]

Under the supervision of Gerald Holton in the History of Science Department of Harvard University, she studied the theoretical physics community in the U.S. and its dependence on the European physics community of the 1920s. She obtained her Ph.D. in history of science and education at Harvard University in 1976 with her dissertation entitled Quantum Physics in America: 1920–1935.[3][4]

She actively worked on physics curriculum development, participating in the Harvard Project Physics.[5] She interviewed noted scientists and worked as editor for the American Institute of Physics books series History of Modern Physics.[6]

She died on 30 July 2009 in Salem, Massachusetts.

Oral history transcripts[edit]

Sopka recorded her interviews, which became part of physics' oral history. They are archived with the Niels Bohr Library & Archives of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA.

In 1979 she spoke with Mildred Allen.[7] Alice Armstrong,[8] Dorothy Heyworth,[9]

In 1978, she found Lucy Wilson[10][11] and Dorothy Weeks[12]

In 1977 her subjects included Melba Phillips,[13] Janet Guernsey,[14] Edward Purcell,[15][16] Nicolaas Bloembergen,[17] Kenneth T. Bainbridge,[18][19] John H. Van Vleck,[20] Sidney Coleman,[21] and Gerald Holton[22]

In 1976 she talked with Sheldon Glashow,[23] Norman Ramsey,[24] Jabez Curry Street,[25] and Edwin Kemble.[26]



  • Katherine Russell Sopka: Quantum physics in America: the years through 1935, Thomash Publishers, 1988, ISBN 978-0-88318-553-7
  • Katherine Russell Sopka (ed.): Physics for a new century: papers presented at the 1904 St. Louis congress, Tomash Publishers, 1986, ISBN 978-0-88318-487-5
  • Katherine Russell Sopka: Making contributions: an historical overview of women's role in physics, American Association of Physics Teachers, 1984, ISBN 978-0-917853-09-8
  • Dorothy Weeks, Katherine Russell Sopka: Dorothy Weeks: transcript of an interview taken on a tape recorder on 19 July 1978, Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, 1978
  • Katherine Sopka: Quantum Physics in America: 1920–1935 (Doctoral Dissertation, Harvard University, 1976). New York: American Institute of Physics and Tomash Publishers (Book review by David C. Cassidy, The British Journal for the History of Science, 1982, 15, pp. 202–204)
  • Katherine Sopka: Survey of the physical sciences: PHYS4005, Independent Study Div., New York Institute of Technology, 1973

Articles and book chapters (selection)[edit]

  • Katherine R. Sopka, Elisabeth M. Sopka, The Bonebreak Theological Seminary: Top-Secret Manhattan Project Site, Physics in Perspective (PIP), Springer, Volume 12, Number 3, pp. 338–349, DOI: 10.1007/s00016-010-0019-4, 2000 (abstract)
  • Eli Maor, Katherine R. Sopka: The story of e: e the story of a number, The Physics Teacher, Volume 33, Issue 8, pp. 540, DOI 10.1119/1.2344290, 1995
  • Katherine R. Sopka: A man for our time, The Physics Teacher, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp. 188, DOI 10.1119/1.2341980, 1986
  • Katherine R. Sopka: A good story, The Physics Teacher, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp. 252–253, DOI: 10.1119/1.2341805, 1985
  • Katherine R. Sopka: Three years of Joseph Henry, The Physics Teacher, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp. 254, 10.1119/1.2342239, 1987
  • Katherine R. Sopka: Particles or waves?, The Physics Teacher, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp. 336, DOI 10.1119/1.2341564, 1984
  • Gerald Holton, Katherine Sopka: Great books of science in the twentieth century: physics. In: Mortimer J. Adler, John Van Doren (eds.): The Great Ideas Today, pp. 224 ff., 1979
  • Katherine Sopka: An apostle of science visits America: John Tyndall's journey of 1872–1873, The Physics Teacher, Volume 10, Issue 7, pp. 369–375, 1972 (abstract)
  • Katherine J. Sopka: A real enough cleavage, Physics Today, Volume 21, Issue 7, Letters, p. 9, DOI 10.1063/1.3035089, 1968



  1. ^ Katherine Sopka plumbed physics history, www.boston.com
  2. ^ a b Katherine J. Sopka, 88, obituary, eagletribune.com, August 3, 2009 (downloaded 22 March 2012)
  3. ^ Gerald Holton: The Advancement of Science, and Its Burdens, Harvard Univ Press, 30. Oktober 1998, ISBN 978-0-674-00530-3, p. 128
  4. ^ Albert E. Moyer: American Physics in Transition: A History of Conceptual Change in the Late Nineteenth Century: 3, ISBN 978-0-938228-06-6, p. xx
  5. ^ Gerald Holton: The Project Physics Course, Then and Now, The Origin of Project Physics, Science Education encore (downloaded 25 March 2012)
  6. ^ Katherine J. Sopka, 88, eagletribune.com (downloaded 22 March 2012)
  7. ^ Interview with Dr. Mildred Allen on June 18, 1979. Transcript
  8. ^ Interview with Dr. Alice Armstrong at Wellesley, MA, on June 11, 1979. Transcript
  9. ^ Interview with Dr. Dorothy Heyworth in Wellesley, Massachusetts, March 14, 1979. Transcript
  10. ^ Interview with Dr. Lucy Wilson at Miss Wilson’s home, Wellesley, Mass., on December 6, 1978. Transcript
  11. ^ Interview with Dr. Lucy Wilson at Miss Wilson’s home, Wellesley, Mass., October 4, 1978 Transcript
  12. ^ Interview with Dr. Dorothy Weeks at Wellesley, Massachusetts, on July 19, 1978. Transcript
  13. ^ Interview with Dr. Melba Phillips on December 5, 1977. Transcript
  14. ^ Interview with Dr. Janet Guernsey at New Science Center, Wellesley College on June 29, 1977. Transcript
  15. ^ Interview with Dr. Edward Purcell at Lyman Laboratory of Physics, Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 14, 1977. Transcript
  16. ^ Interview with Dr. Edward Purcell at Lyman Laboratory of Physics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 8, 1977. Transcript
  17. ^ Interview with Professor Nicholaas Bloembergen [sic] at Pierce Hall, Harvard University Physics Department, on March 22, 1977. Transcript
  18. ^ Interview with Dr. Kenneth T. Bainbridge at Harvard University on March 23, 1977. Transcript
  19. ^ Interview with Dr. Kenneth T. Bainbridge at Sopka’s Office, Lyman Laboratory of Physics, on March 16, 1977. Transcript
  20. ^ Interview with John H. Van Vleck at Lyman Laboratory of Physics on 28 January 1977. Transcript
  21. ^ Interview with Dr. Sidney Coleman at Harvard Physics Department, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 18, 1977. Transcript
  22. ^ Interview with Dr. Gerald Holton at Harvard Physics Department on January 11, 1977. Transcript
  23. ^ Interview with Dr. Sheldon Glashow at the Lyman Laboratory on December 7, 1976. Transcript
  24. ^ Interview with Dr. Norman Ramsey at Lyman Laboratory, Harvard University, MA, on November 23, 1976. Transcript
  25. ^ Interview with Dr. Jabez Curry Street at the Jefferson Physical Laboratory on November 22, 1976. Transcript
  26. ^ Interview with Dr. Edwin Kemble at Harvard Physics Department, Cambridge, MA, on November 18, 1976. Transcript

External links[edit]