Dear Mr. Mudd: Is the Institute for Advanced Study Part of Princeton University?

By Spencer Shen ’16

Q: Dear Mr. Mudd,

I’ve heard that Albert Einstein taught at Princeton University. Is this true?

A: Einstein was actually appointed to the Institute of Advanced Study, or the IAS, which is a distinct organization, but its proximity to the university and their intertwined histories has led some to think they are one and the same, but they are not.

Einstein 70 birthday

Albert Einstein’s 70th birthday celebration at the Institute for Advanced Study. Left to right: H. P. Robertson, E. Wigner, H. Weyl, K. Goedel, I. I. Rabi, A. Einstein, R. Ladenburg, J. R. Oppenheimer, and G. M. Clemence. Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC067), Box MP3, Image No. 153.

Q: Is the IAS a separate university then?

A: No, while the Institute adopts some characteristics of a university and a research institute, it differs in significant ways from both.

The IAS is unlike a university in many ways. Its academic membership at any one time numbers slightly over a hundred, but it has no students and no formal curriculum or scheduled courses of instruction. The IAS also has no commitment to represent all branches of learning. Unlike a research institute, the IAS supports many separate fields of study, maintains no laboratories, and welcomes temporary members. The intellectual development and growth of these members is one of its principal purposes. The IAS is devoted to the encouragement, support, and patronage of learning, attracting mostly postdoctoral scholars and scientists who desire further opportunities for research.

Mr. Louis Bamberger and his sister, Mrs. Felix Fuld, founded the Institute in 1930. The first director of the IAS was Abraham Flexner, who was succeeded in 1939 by Frank Aydelotte. The famous atomic scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer served the longest tenure of any director so far, succeeding Aydelotte in 1947 and stepping down in 1966, shortly before his death. The current director is Dutch mathematical physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, who took the position in 2012.

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The Institute for Advanced Study, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD04, Image No. 8146.

While awaiting the construction of its first building, the IAS was originally housed in Princeton University’s Fine Hall, until the completion of Fuld Hall in 1939. Einstein, one of the original IAS faculty, had an office in Fine Hall starting in 1933 and was often seen walking on campus; this connects him in the minds of many with the university. However, the IAS soon developed its own institutional center on a square mile of beautiful wooded land at the southern edge of the town of Princeton, and Einstein spent the remainder of his life with an office there.

Q: Was Einstein a professor of physics at IAS?

A: Actually, Einstein belonged to the original School of Mathematics, whose members are pure mathematicians and mathematical physicists. There are currently four schools at the IAS: Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Social Science. The School of Historical Studies was established in 1949 by merging the School of Economics and Politics and the School of Humanistic Studies. It embraces the application of historical methods to a range of academic fields, including international relations, Greek and Roman civilization, and history of art. The School of Natural Sciences emerged in the 1950s, accepting theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, and biologists. Most recently, the School of Social Science was added in 1973 to encourage a multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of contemporary societies and social change.

Related Sources:

Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005

Institute for Advanced Study’s official website

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.

This post was originally written by Rosemary Switzer (2003) as an FAQ page on our old website. It has been revised and expanded here by Spencer Shen ’16 as part of the launch of our new website.

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