Skip to main content

Karl Wolfgang Böer papers supplement

Identifier: MSS 0632

Scope and Content Note

The Karl Wolfgang Böer papers supplement contains the publications, scientific notes, and other papers documenting the professional activities of Karl Wolfgang Böer, a preeminent physicist who pioneered the development of solar energy. This collection is divided into five series: "Academic and professional activities, 1954-2004," "Professional Writings, 1958-2005," "Slides, 1973-1981," "Films, 1960s," and "Biographical and personal material, 1953-2009."

Series I, "Academic and professional activities, 1954-2004," includes material relating to Dr. Böer's work in individual and corporate research, as well as his activities at the University of Delaware. The series is divided into two subseries: "Professional activities, 1954-2004" and "University of Delaware - teaching, 1969-2004." The first subseries, "Professional activities," is further subdivided into nine sub-subseries: "Technical memorandums," "Technical information transfers," "Technical reports," "Task force notes," "Solar energy research and reports," "International Solar Energy Society," "Correspondence," "Awards," and "Drafts and notes."

"Technical Memorandums, 1979-1981" includes memorandums sent and received by Dr. Böer and his colleagues over the course of his many research initiatives. The memorandums cover a large variety of subjects, including cost/benefit analyses of projects, information sharing, and confidentiality, though the majority consists of highly technical details concerning specific research projects. The material is organized chronologically.

"Technical Information Transfers, 1981" includes documents received by Dr. Böer during his work with Solar Energy Systems (SES), which describe formal information transfers between the Institute of Energy Conversion (IEC) and SES. The transferred information pertains to IEC research into the efficiency of materials used in solar panel construction, including cadmium sulfide/copper sulfide heterojunction cells and photovoltaic solar cells using zinc phosphide semiconductors. Documentation of these information transfers includes quarterly and annual research reports, patent disclosures, and copies or abstracts of reports authored by research project participants. All research information referenced in this material was generated in the course of projects sponsored by the United States Department of Energy (DOE). This series contains only one file, which contains multiple reports.

"Technical Reports, 1967-1980" includes copies of technically descriptive or research reports authored by Dr. Böer to describe the results, processes, and procedures of his current laboratory research. The majority of the reports are related to Dr. Böer's research at the University of Delaware. Both reprinted and unpublished versions of the reports are included. In addition, this subseries includes project status reports for the CdS Characterization project undertaken in 1980. These reports, supplied to Dr. Böer from each project leader, detail the developments, triumphs, and setbacks in research and experimentation from the project's launch to its conclusion. The material is arranged with published materials listed first, followed by unpublished materials. Project-specific reports are filed last.

"Task force notes, 1981" includes handwritten notes and typewritten reports detailing the findings of several project-based SES task forces. Each task force was assigned a specific task relating to SES business interests in the field of solar energy research. These tasks included scientific research into specific problems, such as "cell degradation at high operating voltages as characterized by losses in shunt resistance and short circuit current," as well as non-scientific tasks, such as including "market definition" and defining "technical services." All documents are internal, and are thus authored with the assumption that the reader had full knowledge of the scope and context of the contents. The documents themselves include summaries of task force problems and their proposed solutions, as well as evaluations of the resources, time, and processes needed to complete them. The material is organized numerically by task force number, beginning with task force "1" and ending with task force "8b" and the administrative subtask force.

"Solar energy research and reports, 1971-1997" includes material relating directly to the solar energy research conducted by Dr. Boer at the Institute of Energy Conversion at the University of Delaware. Notable among the material is a final draft of "Direct Solar Energy Conversion for Large Scale Terrestrial Use," a significant research effort into developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar power cells. Also included in this subseries is a large quantity of material relating to research conducted on "Solar One," a solar-powered house built to serve as a test laboratory for the Institute of Energy Conversion. The material is organized alphabetically by subject.

"International Solar Energy Society, 1971-2001" includes materials relating to the activities of the American Section of the International Solar Energy Society. These materials include correspondence, board and membership meeting minutes, budget material, material regarding the selection and relocation of the Section's headquarters office, and details regarding the Society's incorporation. The material is arranged alphabetically according to subject.

"Correspondence, 1969-2004" includes correspondence from Dr. Böer to individuals, or regarding specific events or subjects. Further documentation about these individuals does not appear in this collection. Individuals represented include Gerhard Mener, Heinz Hora, and Otfried Madelling. Subjects include the American Physical Society and the International Conference on Luminescence. The files in this series are limited to groups of correspondence stored together by Dr. Böer, and individual letters or brief correspondence may be found elsewhere in the collection. The material is arranged alphabetically by correspondent or subject.

"Awards, 1972-2003" includes material relating to both awards received by Dr. Böer, as well as the Karl W. Böer Solar Energy Award, issued in his honor. Specific material includes correspondence, programs, and clippings regarding awards received by Dr. Böer from 1972 to 2003, as well as material related to President Jimmy Carter's receipt of the Karl W. Böer Award in 1993. Also included are the names of award nominees, as well as the Medal of Distinction Award. The material is arranged chronologically.

"Drafts and notes, 1954-2001" contains Böer's scientific research, calculations, paper drafts, and conference preparation notes. The papers are arranged by Böer's own organizational system, of which the only evidence was an ascending numerical order clearly visible on each file. Based on clusters of similarly themed files, the material appears to be arranged loosely by subject. However, no explicit relationship between assigned numbers and subject titles could be discerned. Many of the earlier papers are related to the Ovshinsky Effect, while later papers focus on solar cells and conductivity. Of particular interest are plans for an improved solar energy greenhouse at Longwood Gardens. It is important to note that Böer's organizational system was previously maintained in the University of Delaware's Karl Wolfgang Böer papers, 1945-2003 (bulk 1961-1986), collection number MSS 483.

The second subseries, "University of Delaware - teaching, 1969-2004," contains material from Böer's career as a professor in the University of Delaware's physics and engineering programs. Included are Böer's notes from courses he taught, research programs and proposals, and one student's dissertation. Also included is Böer's text entitled, "Introduction to Space-Charge Effects in Semiconductors." Series II, "Professional writings, 1958-2005" is composed of Böer's numerous papers published in journals and scholarly works. The earliest papers in the series were published while Böer was at Humboldt University, following him through his move to the University of Delaware, and continue through 2005. The publications that pre-date Böer's move to the United States are written in German. In addition to a copy of the published paper, some folders may also include related correspondence, drafts, and research notes. Many of these papers were published in physica status soldi: the International Journal of Solid State Physics , of which Böer was a founding editor. The papers are organized according to Böer's own numbering system, which is roughly chronological. A complete listing of Boer's numbered publications can be found in Appendix A of the Karl Wolfgang Böer Papers, 1945-2003 (Collection MSS 483) finding aid. Any non-numbered publications can be found alphabetically at the end of the series, as well as any correspondence relating to Böer's publications. Also included are published books edited by Böer, Fifty-Year History of the International Solar Energy Society and Its National Sections , and the Survey of Semiconductor Physics, Second Edition .

Series III, "Slides, 1973-1981," retains Böer's original organization, in which slides are grouped by location or image content. Within these groups, slides are arranged chronologically. Slide presentation topics include the economics of solar energy, photovoltaics, CdS cells, CdS theory, and solar installations, as well as presentation slides for Böer's formulas and equations. Also included are slide photos of the Institute of Energy Conservation's (IEC) solar houses, the Solar One project, and early Solar Energy Systems (SES) presentations. Particularly interesting are slide photos of Böer's own solar energy-powered home.

Series IV, "Films, 1960s" is a collection of reel films, most of which are housed in metal canisters and are undated. Approximately half carry German titles, which could not be fully translated but suggest content related to CdS theory or research. Based on these titles, as well as Dr. Böer's extensive list of German-language publications, it is likely that film content is in German as well.

Series V, "Biographical and personal material, 1953-2009," contains Böer's personal memorabilia. All files in this series were, upon receipt, observed to be grouped together and topically separated. The subjects documented in this series represent the only material in this collection documenting Dr. Böer's private life, as opposed to the professional focus that constitutes the collection's bulk. Included in this series are early patents, written in German, and material related to Böer's 70th birthday celebration in 1995. Also included are Ester Riehl's biographical work on Böer, and a book of poems, written by Böer in German, about his years in Berlin.

Series VI, "Binders of clippings and correspondence, 1970-1980," contains press releases, clippings, and photocopies of articles and newspaper clippings related to the Institute of Energy Conversion, solar energy, the Solar I house and general topics of research involving energy. The binders of material in this series were, upon receipt, observed to be grouped together and each binder labeled. For conservation purposes the binders were removed. However, the folder titles duplicate the labeling which appeared on the original binders.

This collection is minimally processed to the folder level.


  • Creation: 1953-2009


Language of Materials

The bulk of the materials this collection are in English. However, there are some materials, particularly within the "Professional Writings" series, that are in German.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce isrequired from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Physicist, inventor, university professor, and solar energy pioneer Karl Wolfgang Böer was born March 23, 1926, in Berlin, Germany. He became a naturalized American citizen in August 1972. Böer was educated at Humboldt University in Berlin (Diploma, Physics, 1949; Doctorate, Physics and Solid State Physics, 1952, 1955) where he also taught in the physics department from 1950 to 1961. At Humboldt University, Böer formed and directed a research team, which became a section of the II Physics Department in 1951 with eight scientists. By 1961, the group had grown to twenty-six scientists and twenty-three support personnel. Upon completion of his doctoral degrees, and in addition to his academic position at Humboldt, Böer founded and became director of the Section of Dielectric Breakdown of the German Academy of Science in Berlin. The laboratories included facilities to grow and analyze cadmium sulfide (CdS) single crystals, as well as optical and electrical laboratories, a magnetic laboratory (40kG/8cm3), a high pressure facility (20kbar with optical windows), and x-ray, emission spectroscopy, and low temperature facilities. The shops included mechanical (for metal and wood), glass, and electronic shops.

Böer's decision to immigrate to the United States was prompted by the construction of the Berlin Wall--an event that took place while Böer was attending a scientific conference at Cornell University. After resigning from his position as chair of the physics department at Humboldt, Böer began his career at the University of Delaware as an associate professor of physics in 1962. In 1965, he became professor of physics, and, in 1971, professor of physics and engineering.

With a vision of solar energy as a supply source for residential energy and a means to reduce American dependence on foreign oil imports, Böer anticipated issues of the energy crisis of the mid-1970s and founded the Institute of Energy Conservation (IEC) at the University of Delaware in 1972. He served as its director and chief scientist from 1972 to 1975. Under Böer's direction, the IEC grew from a small research and development group into a major research facility and important training ground for many of the individuals who have contributed to advances in photovoltaic technology for delivery of solar energy. In the introduction to a special issue of Progress in Photovoltaics celebrating IEC's 25th anniversary in 1997, Birkmire and Hegedus credited Böer with recognizing the potential of thin film photovoltaic cells coupled with thermal collectors as clean and inexpensive means to deliver solar energy. Böer obtained funding from the National Science Foundation, electric power utilities, and the University of Delaware Board of Trustees to establish the IEC. This pioneering endeavor predated the first oil embargo, as well as the establishment of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), both formed in 1977.

Research during the early years at IEC focused on increasing the conversion and delivery efficiency of copper sulfide/cadmium sulfide (Cu2S/CdS) used in thin film solar cells. In 1972, Böer proposed Solar One, the first solar house, to harvest solar energy in a total system approach. The experimental house, with solar-generated heat and electricity, was built in 1973 at the University of Delaware with support from Delmarva Power and Light Company.

Parallel to development of IEC, Böer was involved in the foundation of Solar Energy Systems (SES), Inc., a private corporation in contract with the University of Delaware, IEC, and Shell Oil Company. Böer served initially as chairman of the board (1972-1981) and chief executive officer (1972-1975); he later served as chief scientist (1975-1985). The purpose of the company was to produce solar energy conversion hardware, beginning with Cu2S/CdS solar cells capable for mass fabrication.

In 1975, Böer returned to a fulltime research and teaching position and began advising the University's president on long term projects. In 1993 he was named Distinguished Professor of Physics and Solar Energy. He eventually retired from the University of Delaware in 1994 as Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Physics and Solar Energy after receiving many awards for teaching and research. In 1998, the University presented Böer with its Medal of Distinction.

Böer's expertise in solar cells, solar energy systems, solid state physics, and electronic transport in solids is internationally recognized. He holds twenty-eight patents in solid state technology, authored over 300 articles on solar energy conversion and solid state physics, co-authored two books, and edited scientific textbooks and journals. Böer was the founding editor of physica status solidi: the International Journal of Solid State Physics, and edited Solar News and Views in Solar Age , the Journal of Solar Energy Materials , and Advances in Solar Energy . Böer's book, Survey of Semiconductor Physics (1993) is the most comprehensive treatment in the field written by a single author. He has received the highest honors of his profession, including election as a fellow of the American Physical Society (1965), fellow of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES, 2000), and fellow of the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE, 2001).

Throughout his career with the University of Delaware's physics and engineering departments and the IEC, Böer worked on many projects relating to the development and production of solar cells and solar energy conversion. These projects were funded by agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) at DOE, the United States military, NASA, and private corporations. As evidenced in this collection, Böer maintained close contact with the emerging fields of solar energy and energy conservation by attending conferences, making public addresses, reviewing and refereeing academic publications, and serving as a consultant to industries and governments. During the 1970s, he had several government assignments on national energy panels. He was a member of the White House Office of Science and Technology Energy Assessment Panel (1972), the National Advisory Board in Solar Conservation Research (1975-1977), and a member of U.S. Senator William Roth's Delaware Energy Task Force (1974-1975). Additionally, Böer served the National Science Foundation several times, chairing the CdS Solar Cell subpanel (1973) and the Solar Heating Systems subpanel (1973).

In addition to his duties at the University of Delaware, IEC, and SES, Böer worked with various groups and organizations dedicated to the development of solar energy. Böer was an active member of the American Section of International Solar Energy Society (ASES), a professional organization that advanced the use of solar energy through the gathering and dissemination of information related to renewable energy sources. The primary activities of ASES include hosting and organizing conferences and symposia, publishing periodicals, scholarly journals, and conference proceedings, and encouraging research and public awareness of solar energy. Böer began serving as a member of the ASES board of directors in 1974, then as chairman of the board from 1976 to 1977. He also served on the Executive Committee, the Publications Committee, the Long Range Planning Committee, and as a member of the Physics Division throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. ASES opened an office at the University of Delaware in 1978, and eventually became a main office for the organization's publication projects.

In 1987, the University of Delaware established the Karl W. Böer Solar Energy Medal of Merit in Böer's honor. Former President Jimmy Carter was the first recipient of the award in 1993, recognized for his work in focusing world attention on solar energy. Honorees receive a bronze medal and a $40,000 stipend.

In 1995, Böer was named to the advisory board of WISTA, a Science and Technology Center in Berlin-Adlershof, serving as the group's U.S. Representative. Delegates from WISTA toured the United States in order to promote greater technological, educational, and industrial cooperation between the U.S. and Berlin-Adlershof.

Introduction to Special Issue of Progress in Photovoltaics: The Thin Film Photovoltaic Symposium Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Institute of Energy Conversion at the University of Delaware. Editors: Robert W. Birkmire and Steven S. Hegedus. Newark, Del.: IEC, University of Delaware, 1997."Karl Böer."The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Marquis Who's Who, 2003. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: The Gale Group, 2003."Karl Böer."Who's Who in Technology. Detroit: Gale, 1989. 6th ed.Okonowicz, Ed. "Karl W. Boer appointed to German scientific board."UpDate. Newark, Del.: University of Delaware. 8 February 1996. 1-3.


11 linear foot (12 boxes)


The Karl Wolfgang Böer papers supplement contains the publications, scientific notes, and other papers documenting the professional activities of Karl Wolfgang Böer, a preeminent physicist who pioneered the development of solar energy.


Gift of Karl Böer, 2004-2010.

Materials Available in Alternative Format

A digital copy of the film "Field- and Current Inhomogeneities in Semiconductors" from July 1960, updated May 2009, is available in Artstor Public Collections.

Related Materials in this Repository

MSS 0483 Karl Wolfgang Böer papers, 1945-2003 (bulk dates 1961-1986)

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-12: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons


Processed and encoded by Jenna Marrone and Brian Stewart, February 2011. Additional processing by Anita Wellner, February 2012. Additional encoding by Jaime Margalotti, July 2011/February 2012.

The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.

Finding aid for Karl Wolfgang Böer papers supplement
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2011 February
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA