Those who had the privilege to closely know Mgr. Georges Lemaître (1894-1966) have surely been struck by the strong personality of the father of modern cosmology. To give a wider publicity to the person and his works, the Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics G. Lemaître collected with the help of various collaborators many archives of Lemaître. Step by step, a little "museum" was set up allowing to preserve the memory of one the greatest scientists and professor of our university, and to assure the perennially of his work. The archives allow to depict, as precisely as possible, the scientist and the priest and trace back Lemaître's evolution of life and thoughts.
Historical record of archives
After Lemaître's death, his family donated the content of his office (furniture, scientific documents and some personal objects) to the Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics and its head, Prof. O. Godart. This legacy first underwent what happens to many archives and it had to survive the big move of the university to Louvain-la-Neuve. In 1977, when Prof. M. Heller was appointed to the Georges Lemaître Chair, a first sorting out of scientific documents was made with the collaboration of Prof. Godart and new (unknown) manuscripts were discovered. In 1982, Prof. Heller was again appointed to the Georges Lemaître Chair, and he went on examining, uncovering and classifying scientific documents.
In 1983, the UCL organized the colloquium "The Big Bang and Georges Lemaître" to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Big Bang theory. This meeting gathered many international personalities as well as former students and collaborators of Lemaître. An exhibition was set up showing furniture, original manuscripts, letters, medals, sacerdotal objects, calculating machines, etc… belonging to Lemaître. At about the same time under the impulse of A. Deprit (former student and collaborator of Lemaître) a more detailed inventory was started. Documents were classified according to chronological, alphabetical and thematical order. Documents related to Lemaître but subsequent to his death were added to the archives. A real small museum was born and L. Moens was entrusted with its management. From the very beginning she was excited by this new experience.
In 1994, a series of meetings celebrated the centenary of G. Lemaître's birth and the archives knew a revival. This persuaded Gilbert Lemaître (nephew of G. Lemaître) to sort documents related to numerical computing. Thanks to his insistence with Lemaître's family, new archives were and are still gathered for the "Lemaître's museum".
Since a few years, Prof D. Lambert (PhD in science and in philosophy and Lemaître's prize in 1999) actively continues to examine unpublished documents. This work already led him to publish an accurate biography and a detailed analysis of Lemaître's works in his books "Un Atome d'Univers" (2000), "L'itinéraire spirituel de Georges Lemaître" (2007) and "Charles Darwin et Georges Lemaître, une improbable, mais passionnante rencontre" (2008) with Jacques Reisse.
In the present projects, digitalization of a part of the photographs and the most significant documents is considered. This work will not only preserve the archives but it will also allow to respond more easily to the numerous demands of access to the documents.
Content of the archives
Lemaître's archives show a large variety of scientific documents related to cosmology, mechanics, algebra and numerical calculus, courses and various manuscripts, scientific books (about 450), religious philosophic documents and sacerdotal objects. His office furniture has been gathered, as well as calculating machines and among them the first computer of the university, the Burroughs E101 purchased by Lemaître for the laboratory of astronomy and geodesy in the late 50ties. A set of photographs, slides (astronomy course), press articles and various souvenirs (medals and honorific distinctions) complete the collection.
Access to the archives
The archives are placed under the joint responsibility of the Archive Services and the Institute for Research in Mathematics and Physics of the Catholic University of Louvain. Their access is restricted to scientists on request towards a well motivated specific project. Under specific conditions the archives also provide the press and media with copies of documents. The fund also lends documentation and objects for exhibitions under specific conditions.
Permanent Lemaître exhibit
A small permanent Lemaître exhibit is available in the study room of the Faculty of science, building Sc. 11, Place des Sciences. It has on display most of the moveable objects listed above as well as a retrospective of the life and work of George Lemaître through a series of banners. This room is accessible throughout most of the year from Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 18:30 p.m. (closed for 15 days over Christmas and the New Year, for a week at Easter, and during the months of July and August). Presently temporarily closed until September 2017.
Contact address: Mme L. Moens, tel. +32 10 41 02 48 - e-mail: Moens.Liliane@uclouvain.be