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Bohr, Niels (1885-1962) | Niels Bohr Archive

Name: Bohr, Niels (1885-1962)
Fuller Form: Bohr, Niels Henrik David

Historical Note: Born on 7 October 1885 to Christian Bohr, physiologist at the University of Copenhagen, and his wife Ellen, née Adler, Bohr completed his university education at his father's university in 1911.  That year he went to England, where he worked under the direction of Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester.  Rutherford and his collaborators had recently determined experimentally that the atom has a small but heavy nucleus at its center with negative electrons circling around it at relatively considerable distances. Realizing that such a system could not be explained by means of classical physics, Bohr proposed his revolutionary quantum model of the atom in 1913.  It was also in this period, on 1 August 1912, that Bohr married Margrethe, née Nørlund, who was to become his most important companion and counsellor throughout his life.  In 1916 he was appointed professor at the University of Copenhagen, and in 1921 the University's Institute for Theoretical Physics was inaugurated under Bohr's leadership. The following year Bohr was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the atomic model.  In the 1920s Bohr's institute served as a world center in the continuing development of quantum physics, and it was here that what was later termed the "Copenhagen Interpretation" of the new quantum physics was formulated in the late 1920s on the basis of Bohr's concept of complementarity.  In the 1930s Bohr was one of the first physicists in Europe to turn theoretical and experimental work at his institute to nuclear physics, which now became the most exciting field in physics.  Just before the war, Bohr played a major role in explaining the process of fission, and having been forced to flee his country in October 1943, he joined the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.  At the same time, he started a personal mission for an "open world", seeking to convince Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt in personal interviews of the necessity to share the secret of the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union in order not to lose the confidence of the war ally and thus avoid a nuclear arms race after the war.  Unsuccessful in this venture, Bohr continued his mission for an "open world" after the war until the end of his life, publishing his "Open Letter to the United Nations" in 1950 and employing his honorary residence, where he and his family had moved in 1932, as a meeting place for statesmen and physicists alike.  During the same period, Bohr was central in developing scientific institutions both in Denmark and internationally.  When he died on 18 November 1962, he was revered all over the world as one of the greatest scientists and humanists of the century.

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