Victor Weisskopf

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Victor Weisskopf
VictorWeisskopft-LosAlamos.jpg
Victor Frederick Weisskopf in the 1940s.
Born (1908-09-19)September 19, 1908
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Died April 22, 2002(2002-04-22) (aged 93)
Newton, Massachusetts, United States
Residence Austria, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, United States
Nationality Austria, United States
Fields Physicist
Institutions University of Leipzig
University of Berlin
ETH Zurich
Niels Bohr Institute
University of Rochester
Manhattan Project
MIT
CERN
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Doctoral advisor Max Born
Eugene Wigner
Doctoral students Kerson Huang
J. David Jackson
Murray Gell-Mann
Robert H. Dicke
Kurt Gottfried
Lawrence Biedenharn
Notable awards Max Planck Medal (1956)
Oersted Medal (1976)
National Medal of Science (1980)
Wolf Prize (1981)
Enrico Fermi Award (1988)
Public Welfare Medal (1991)

Victor Frederick "Viki" Weisskopf (September 19, 1908 – April 22, 2002) was an Austrian-born American theoretical physicist. He did postdoctoral work with Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr.[1] During World War II he was Group Leader of the Theoretical Division of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos,[2] and later campaigned against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Biography[edit]

Weisskopf was born in Vienna to Jewish parents and earned his doctorate in physics at the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1931. His brilliance in physics led to work with the great physicists exploring the atom, especially Niels Bohr, who mentored Weisskopf at his institute in Copenhagen. By the late 1930s, he realized that, as a Jew, he needed to get out of Europe. Bohr helped him find a position in the U.S.[3]

In the 1930s and 1940s, 'Viki', as everyone called him, made major contributions to the development of quantum theory, especially in the area of Quantum Electrodynamics.[4] One of his few regrets was that his insecurity about his mathematical abilities may have cost him a Nobel prize when he did not publish results (which turned out to be correct) about what is now known as the Lamb shift.[5]

From 1937 to 1943 he was a Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester.

After World War II, Weisskopf joined the physics faculty at MIT, ultimately becoming head of the department. At MIT, he encouraged students to ask questions, and, even in undergraduate physics courses, taught his students to think like physicists, not just to learn physics. He was a memorable teacher.

Weisskopf was a co-founder and board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He served as director-general of CERN from 1961 to 1966.

Weisskopf was awarded the Max Planck medal in 1956 and the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca in 1972, the National Medal of Science (1980), the Wolf Prize (1981) and the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences (1991).[6]

Weisskopf was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was president of the American Physical Society (1960–61)[7] and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1976–1979).[8]

He was appointed by Pope Paul VI to the 70-member Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1975, and in 1981 he led a team of four scientists sent by Pope John Paul II to talk to President Ronald Reagan about the need to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons.

In joint statement Preserving and Cherishing the Earth with other noted scientists including Carl Sagan it concluded that: The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example, and leadership are powerfully able to influence personal conduct and commitment...Thus, there is a vital role for religion and science. [9]

He married Ellen Tvede. He was survived at death by his second wife Duscha.

Decorations and awards[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

Quotes[edit]

In class one day, speaking to junior physics majors (Spring, 1957): "There is no such thing as a stupid question."

Publications[edit]

  • Weisskopf, Victor; J. M. Blatt (1952). Theoretical Nuclear Physics. New York: John Wiley. 
  • Weisskopf, Victor (1963). Knowledge and Wonder: The Natural World as Man Knows It. New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday & Co. (Science Study Series S31). 
  • Weisskopf, Victor (1972). Physics in the Twentieth Century: Selected Essays. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. 
  • Weisskopf, Victor; Kurt Gottfried (1984). Concepts of Particle Physics, vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Weisskopf, Victor; Kurt Gottfried (1986). Concepts of Particle Physics, vol. 2. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Weisskopf, Victor (1989). The Privilege of Being a Physicist. Essays. New York: W. H. Freeman. 
  • Weisskopf, Victor (1991). The Joy of Insight: Passions of a Physicist. New York: Basic Books. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2002/weisskopf-0424.html Obituary of Victor Weisskopf from the MIT News Office
  2. ^ "Victor Weisskopf". Retrieved 4 Sep 2013. 
  3. ^ National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), Office of the Home Secretary. Biographical Memoirs, Volume 84. p. 375. Retrieved 30 Apr 2012. 
  4. ^ See Mozart and Quantum Mechanics: An Appreciation of Victor Weisskopf http://www-theory.lbl.gov/jdj/VFW-Phy-Today.pdf
  5. ^ 'I might even have shared the Nobel Prize with Lamb' from Jackson & Gottfried, Victor Frederick Weisskopf 1908-2002 A Biographical Memoir, p. 16. http://www.nap.edu/html/biomems/vweisskopf.pdf
  6. ^ "Public Welfare Award". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  7. ^ "Presidents: American Physical Society 1899 - Present". Retrieved 4 Sep 2013. 
  8. ^ "Academy Presidents". Retrieved 4 Sep 2013. 
  9. ^ The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology. 2013 http://fore.research.yale.edu/publications/statements/preserve/ |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  10. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 1372. Retrieved 5 January 2013. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Medawar, Jean: Pyke, David (2012). Hitler's Gift: The True Story of the Scientists Expelled by the Nazi Regime (Paperback). New York: Arcade Publishing. ISBN 978-1-61145-709-4. 
  • V. Stefan (Editor). PHYSICS and SOCIETY. Essays in Honor of Victor Frederick Weisskopf by the International Community of Physicists. ISBN 1-56396-386-8

External links[edit]