Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962

Alternative names
Birth 1885-10-07
Death 1962-11-18
Swedish, French, German, Danish, English

Biographical notes:

Physicist (atomic physics, quantum theory, nuclear physics), philosopher of science, and administrator. On the physics faculty at Kobenhavns Universitet, 1916-1962; director, Universitets Institut for Teoretisk Fysik (later Niels Bohr Institutet), 1920-1962.

From the description of Holograph eulogy of Ernest Rutherford, 1937. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80400195

From the description of Reprints from Henrik Anthony Kramers Collection, 1910-1950. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80052494

From the description of The philosophical impact of physics: lectures delivered as Karl Taylor Compton Lecturer, 1957. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82528634

From the description of Invitational letter to Maria Göppert Mayer to attend conference on problems of quantum physics in Copenhagen, 1951. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82591295

From the description of Obituary notice from the Tallahassee Democrat, with tributes by Hans Bethe, Glenn Seaborg, and John Cockcroft and Hideki Yukawa, 1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82944277

From the description of Invitational letter to Georges Temmer to participate in nuclear physics research at the Niels Bohr Institutet, 1956. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 77959381

Physicist (atomic physics, quantum theory, nuclear physics), philosopher of science and administrator. On the physics faculty at Kobenhavns Universitet (1916-1962), and director, Universitetets Institut for Teoretisk Fysik (later Niels Bohr Institutet) (1920-1962).

From the description of Recordings of Niels Bohr on Danish Radio [sound recording] / 1938-1979. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81069570

From the description of Niels Bohr lectures and interviews [sound recording], 1949-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154306462

From the description of Niels Bohr film collection [motion picture] / ca. 1937-1952. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80490106

Danish physicist.

From the description of Typewritten letter signed : Copenhagen, to Professor James Franck, 1920 Oct. 18. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270539296

Danish physicist, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize in physics.

From the description of Typed letter signed : University Institute for Theoretical Physics, Copenhagen, to Samuel Goudsmit, 1926 Apr. 17. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270953131

Niels Bohr was appointed professor of physics at Copenhagen University in 1916. His institute, Universitets Institut for teoretisk Fysik (UITF), was inaugurated in 1921. The name was changed to the Niels Bohr Institute in 1965.

From the description of Bohr Institute administrative records, up to 1962, c.1916-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79753061

Physicist (atomic physics, quantum theory, nuclear physics), philosopher of science and administrator. On the physcis faculty at Kobenhavns Universitet (1916-1962), and director, Universitetets Institutet for Teoretisk Fysik (later Niels Bohr Institutet) (1920-1962).

From the description of Bohr scientific correspondence, supplement, 1910-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79015809

Physicist (atomic physics, quantum theory, nuclear physics), philosopher of science and administrator. On the physics faculty at Kobenhavns Universitet (1916-1962), and director, Universitetets Institutet for Teoretisk Fysik (later Niels Bohr Institutet) (1920-1962).

From the description of Bohr general correspondence, 1910-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83088432

From the description of Scientific manuscripts, Supplement, 1907-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84192677

From the description of Bohr political correspondence, 1939-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82798854

From the description of Manuscripts, other authors, 1910-1961. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81716290

From the description of Bohr Nobel Prize correspondence, 1920-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79840289

From the description of Bohr private corresondence, 1910-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79655134

Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who made tremendous contributions to his field, transforming accepted notions of atomic structure, helping to develop nuclear fission, and advocating for international cooperation in crafting responsible nuclear policy.

Bohr was born in Copenhagen in 1885 into a family that encouraged his academic pursuits. Christian Bohr, his father, was professor of physiology at the University of Copenhagen. Bohr credited his father for awakening his interest in physics at a young age. His mother, Ellen Adler Bohr, came from a wealthy Jewish family that was prominent in the field of education. Bohr's brother Harald was a mathematician and Olympic soccer player for the Danish national team.

Bohr graduated from Gammelholm Grammar School in 1903. He then entered Copenhagen University where he earned a Master's degree in Physics in 1909 and a doctorate in 1911. His mentor there, Professor C. Christiansen, was an innovative and well-respected physicist. During graduate school, Bohr won a gold medal from the Academy of Sciences in Copenhagen for his experimental and theoretical exploration of liquids' surface tensions using oscillating fluid jets. He performed the experiments in his father's laboratory, the results of which were published in 1908 in the Transactions of the Royal Society. Following the receipt of this award, however, his work became increasingly theoretical in character. His doctor's disputation, a theoretical explanation of the properties of metals that relied upon electron theory, remains a classic meditation on this subject.

Upon earning his doctorate, Bohr moved to Cambridge, where he pursued his own theoretical work while simultaneously observing the experimental work directed by Sir J.J. Thompson in the Cavendish Laboratory. In 1912 he moved to Manchester, where he worked in Professor Ernest Rutherford's laboratory. Rutherford's discovery of the atomic nucleus became the basis of Bohr's investigation of atomic structure. In 1913, Bohr developed his model of atomic structure, which held that electrons travel in orbits around an atom's nucleus. The chemical properties of the element, his theory held, were determined by the number of electrons in orbit. When an electron dropped from a high-energy orbit to a lower-energy orbit, it emitted a photon of discrete energy. This discovery was central to the development of quantum theory.

Bohr held the position of Lecturer in Physics at Copenhagen University from 1913-1914, and at Victoria University in Manchester from 1914-1916. In 1916, Bohr was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at Copenhagen University. From 1920 until his death in 1962, he led the Institute for Theoretical Physics, which was established for him and eventually named for him. In the 1920s and 1930s, Bohr's laboratory hosted most of the world's leading theoretical physicists.

In 1922, Bohr received the Nobel Prize in physics "for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them." Following his receipt of the Nobel Prize, Bohr increasingly investigated the constitution of atomic nuclei, including their transformations and declensions. Bohr also invented the principle of complementarity, the notion that items could be understood as having contradictory properties. Albert Einstein was a vocal opponent of this principle, and he and Bohr had several famous arguments over its feasibility.

While the Nazis occupied Denmark during World War II, Werner Karl Heisenberg, a top German physicist and Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, visited Bohr. In 1943, just before he was to be arrested by Nazi police, Bohr escaped to Sweden. He spent the remaining years of the war in England and the United States. In America, Bohr worked at the secret Los Alamos Laboratory on the Manhattan Project, where his assumed name was Nicholas Baker. The younger scientists on the project valued Bohr's contribution as a mentor and consultant. His concern about a nuclear arms race, he explained, was "why I went to America. They didn't need my help in making the atom bomb."

Bohr believed that atomic secrets should be shared by all in the international scientific community. Bohr visited President Roosevelt to convince him to share the Manhattan Project with the Russians for the purpose of speeding its progress. Upon Roosevelt's suggestion, Bohr took this idea to England, where Prime Minister Churchill completely opposed the idea. After the war, Bohr returned to Copenhagen. He spent his last decades developing and promoting the peaceful applications of atomic physics. His Open Letter to the United Nations, published on June 9, 1950, sets forth his views. In his lifetime, Bohr authored or co-authored more than 115 published works.

Bohr married Margrethe Norlund in 1912. They had six sons, of whom two died in childhood. The other four led successful lives

From the guide to the Bohr, Niels. Collection, 1909-1963, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Biographical notes are generated from the bibliographic and archival source records supplied by data contributors.


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  • Philosophy and science
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  • Denmark (as recorded)
  • Denmark (as recorded)
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