Since 1962, the Aspen Center for Physics (ACP) has been a utopia for physics research, inspiring scientists with gorgeous mountain vistas and engaging intellectual community.

History of the Center

In 1961, two physicists, George Stranahan of the Carnegie Institute of Technology and Michael Cohen of the University of Pennsylvania, approached the Aspen Institute with a new proposal: a unique research center where theoretical physicists might gather in the summer. It would be an unstructured environment, free from distractions, where physicists could work unfettered by their normal responsibilities. As the original mission of the Aspen Institute, inspired by the great humanitarian Goethe, called for synthesizing the sciences with the humanities, the Institute’s executive director Bob Craig received the suggestion enthusiastically. Supported by the Institute and eminent physicists, the project moved forward with remarkable speed. By the summer of 1962, the first building provided offices for forty-five visiting physicists. Within a few years, the Center had gained a worldwide reputation as a unique environment for the pursuit of basic scientific knowledge. In 1968, it became an independent non-profit corporation, sharing seventy pastoral acres in the residential, sunny west end of town with the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School.

Our Founders

About the Center

  • The ACP first opened as the Physics Division of the Aspen Center for Humanistic Studies (now the Aspen Institute) in 1962. It became the Aspen Center for Physics, an independent nonprofit, in 1968. Read more about the founding here.
  • In 1962, Herbert Bayer, who revitalized Aspen with Bauhaus style after World War II, designed Stranahan Hall as the first building on the Center’s campus. Now, the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies next door commemorates his work. Read about Bayer and the ACP here.
  • Famous visitors have included Stephen Hawking, Philip Anderson, Murray Gell-Mann, and Margaret Thatcher.
  • Over sixty Nobel Prize winners have conducted research at the ACP.
  • In 2012, the Center was designated an American Physical Society Historical Physics Site.
  • The Aspen Historical Society offers publicly accessible oral histories about the founding of the ACP. Watch them here.

Historical Photos

Read articles about ACP's history

Stranahan Hall

Building by Design: The Architecture of the Aspen Center for Physics & the Aspen Idea

By Aruna Balasubramanian

The buildings at the Aspen Center for Physics (ACP) reflect the history of Aspen’s development in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Their very location, in a plain alongside Gillespie Street

25th Anniversary and Patio Dedication with George Stranahan, Michael Cohen, and Robert Anderson

The Founding of the Aspen Center for Physics

By George Stranahan

In 1957 I theorized that if a guy with three kids going to graduate school in Pittsburgh on the GI Bill could rent a house plus jeep in Aspen for three summer months at $400, he’d be a damn fool for not getting outta town. Part of the theory was that, since paper and pencil […]

The History and Structure of the Aspen Center for Physics: Some Comments

By Loyal (Randy) Durand

The Center started as a division of the Aspen Institute in 1962, but some members of the Institute’s rather conservative board thought we didn’t fit in after their operating head (Bob Craig, one of the most promising 100 young organizer/CEO types in the country according to Life Magazine, and a science promoter in the Institute, […]

Paula Johnson, Jane Kelly, and Patty Fox

Essay from Jane Kelly

By Jane Kelly

Pierre Ramond started his first term as president (mid-year, which was an oddity, but I didn’t know it at the time), and I began a steep learning curve...

Michael Cohen, portrait by Bernice Durand

The Tent City That Never Was

By Michael Cohen

Surely you were joking, Mr. Cohen. The notion of a bunch of physicists living in tents and exchanging thoughts when not fending off bears is ridiculous. (More so than seven curled-up dimensions?) In retrospect, my concept of a tent city was a metaphor for the idea of a group of physicists doing their own thing […]

John Schwarz, by Elisa Leonelli; and Michael Green, by Rene Sheret, from TIME Magazine, 1986

The Early Years of String Theory at ACP

By John H. Schwarz

We reminisce about some of the highlights in the development of string theory at the Aspen Center for Physics during the period 1969–1984, especially the authors’ collaboration in the period 1980–1984.

Support the Future of Physics

The Aspen Center for Physics is a non-profit Colorado corporation operated for scientists by scientists with a small administrative staff. Officers, trustees, and general members select programs and participants, guide funding, select staff and oversee all aspects of the Center’s activities. To maintain corporate memory, honorary members and trustees continue to advise the board and serve the Center after their elected terms are over. The Center is governed by a volunteer board of a maximum of 80 general members and nine trustees who are guided by its by-laws.