Weisskopf, Victor Frederick, 1908-2002

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1908-09-19
Death 2002-04-22
US
Russian, Italian, English, German, Danish, Spanish; Castilian, Chinese, French

Biographical notes:

Victor F. Weisskopf, Ph.D., University of Gottingen, Germany, 1931, was professor of Physics at MIT from 1946 until his retirement in 1974. He was director general of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1961 to 1965. Weisskopf's research focus was theoretical work in quantum electrodynamics and nuclear particle physics. Other major affiliations include: University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA, 1937-1943; Los Alamos, NM, USA, 1943-1947.

From the description of My life as a physicist, ca. 1971. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83299863

Epithet: Professor of Physics Massachusetts Institute of Technology

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000561.0x000081

Victor F. Weisskopf, Ph.D., University of Gottingen, Germany, 1931, was professor of Physics at MIT from 1946 until his retirement in 1974. He was director general of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1960 to 1965. Weisskopf's research focus was theoretical work in quantum electrodynamics and nuclear particle physics.

From the description of Oral history interview with Victor Frederick Weisskopf, 1981 March 5. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79715481

Victor Frederick Weisskopf was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1908. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Göttingen, in Germany, in 1931. In the fall of 1937, Weisskopf immigrated to Rochester, New York, where he was an instructor and then an assistant professor at the University of Rochester. From 1943 to 1946 Weisskopf served as deputy chairman of the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. His decades-long association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began in 1945, Weisskopf joined the faculty of the physics department, where he resumed his scientific research and assumed teaching duties as a professor of physics. In 1965 he was named Institute Professor, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. During that period, from 1967 through 1973, he served as the head of the Department of Physics and played a crucial role in the formation of the Center for Theoretical Physics. Weisskopf also played a major role in setting directions of research in high energy particle physics both in the US and in Europe. In 1960 he was invited to serve as the director general of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), a position he assumed in 1961 and held through 1965. Upon his return to the US, he became heavily involved in the efforts leading to the creation of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel of the Atomic Energy Commission and served as its chairman from 1967 through 1973.

From the description of Victor Frederick Weisskopf papers, 1922-2002. (MIT Libraries). WorldCat record id: 320957157

  • 1908 September 19: Born Vienna, Austria
  • 1927 - 1928 : Studies at Vienna University
  • 1931: Earns PhD from University of Gottingen, Germany
  • 2002 April 22: Died, Newton, Massachusetts
  • 1931: Works with Werner Heisenberg, Leipzig, Germany
  • 1932: Works with Erwin Schrödinger, University of Berlin, Germany
  • 1932 - 1933 : Works with Niels Bohr at Bohr's Institute in Copenhagen and with P. A. M. Dirac at Cambridge University, England, with grant from Rockefeller University
  • 1934 - 1936 : Instructor in technology (works with Wolfgang Pauli), Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1936 - 1937 : Research Associate, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 1937 - 1939 : Instructor, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York
  • 1939 - 1945 : Assistant Professor, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York
  • 1943 - 1946 : Group Leader and Associate Head, Theory Division, Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, New Mexico
  • 1945 - 1946 : Associate Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1946 - 1965 : Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1961 - 1965 : Director General, CERN, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1965 - 1974 : Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1967 - 1973 : Head, Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1974 - 2002 : Institute Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1944: Co-founder, Federation of Atomic Scientists
  • 1949 - : Member, Emergency Committee of Scientists
  • 1957: Attends the First Pugwash Conference, Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 1959: Vice President, American Physical Society
  • 1960: President, American Physical Society
  • 1966 - 1977 : Member, CERN Scientific Policy Committee Member, CERN Pauli Committee
  • 1967 - 1973 : Chair, High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, US Atomic Energy Commission
  • 1976 - 1979 : President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 1976 - : Fellow, Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Victor Frederick Weisskopf was born in Vienna, Austria, on September 19, 1908, to Emil and Martha Weisskopf. After attending the gymnasium, where he joined a socialist student group and worked with the Social Democratic Party (Kaiser 2007, pp. 45-46), Weisskopf began to study physics at the University of Vienna. In 1928, following a recommendation by Hans Thirring, one of his professors in Vienna, Weisskopf went to Göttingen to continue his studies with Max Born. He received his Ph.D. in 1931 based on his work on the application of quantum theory to the width of spectral lines.

During his early research career Weisskopf continued working on the basic problems of quantum physics, first with Werner Heisenberg in Leipzig, where he went in the fall of 1931, followed by a brief period spent as a temporary research associate of Ernest Schrödinger in Berlin. In the summer of 1932 Weisskopf went to Kharkov, Soviet Union, where he lectured at the Physico-Technical Institute. A year-long Rockefeller Foundation grant, received in the fall of 1932, allowed him to join Niels Bohr and his group in Copenhagen, and Patrick Dirac in Cambridge, England. For two years, between 1934 and 1936, he held the position of research associate to Wolfgang Pauli at the Institute of Technology in Zurich. His last appointment in Europe was again with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, where he worked from April 1936 to September 1937.

In the fall of 1937, to escape the growing Nazi threat, Weisskopf immigrated to Rochester, New York, where he was an instructor and then an assistant professor at the University of Rochester. From 1943 to 1946 Weisskopf served as deputy chairman (with Hans Bethe as chairman) of the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos.

His decades-long association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began in 1945 when, recruited by Jerrold Zacharias, Weisskopf joined the faculty of the physics department, where he resumed his scientific research and assumed teaching duties as a professor of physics. In 1965 he was named Institute Professor, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. During that period, from 1967 through 1973, he served as the head of the Department of Physics and played a crucial role in the formation of the Center for Theoretical Physics. From 1974 until the end of his life Weisskopf held the titles of Institute Professor Emeritus and Professor of Physics Emeritus.

In addition to his scientific work, teaching, and administrative duties at MIT, Weisskopf played a major role in setting directions of research in high energy particle physics both in the US and in Europe. In 1960 he was invited to serve as the director general of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), a position he assumed in 1961 and held through 1965. Upon his return to the US, he became heavily involved in the efforts leading to the creation of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel of the Atomic Energy Commission and served as its chairman from 1967 through 1973.

Throughout his life Weisskopf was involved in the activities of many professional societies, both in the US and abroad. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and served as its president from 1976 to 1979. As a fellow of the American Physical Society he held the position of vice president in 1959 and president in 1960. He was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and various international organizations including French, Austrian, Danish, Bavarian, Scottish, Spanish, and Russian academies.

Weisskopf received numerous awards for both his scientific and social contributions, including the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society in 1956, the George Gamow Medal in 1968, the Boris Pregel Prize from the New York Academy of Sciences in 1971, the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca for Humanism in 1972, the Ludwig Boltzmann Prize for 1976, the Ludwik Smoluchowski Medal in 1977, the Orden Pour le Merite in 1978, the US National Medal of Science in 1980, the Wolf Prize in Physics for 1981, the Ehrenzeichen der Republic Österreich für Kunst und Wissenschaft in 1982, the J. Robert Oppenheimer Medal in 1983, the Sigma Xi Proctor Award in 1984, the Enrico Fermi Award from the US Department of Energy in 1988, the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991, the Compton Medal for Statesmanship in Science from the American Institute of Physics in 1992, and the Gian-Carlo Wick Medal from the World Federation of Scientists in 1994. He also received numerous honorary degrees.

During his long career as a theoretical physicist Weisskopf made significant contributions to the fields of quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, and the physics of elementary particles. (For an overview of his scientific contributions, see Kaiser 2007, pp. 44-56; Jackson and Gottfried 2003, pp. 3-27; and Stefan 1998.) He was an inspired teacher and an avid advocate of nuclear disarmament, an open exchange of information among scientists of all nations, and the freedom of individuals to express their beliefs. Over his career, Weisskopf published over two hundred papers on a variety of topics including quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, science policy, and nuclear disarmament. He also authored and coauthored several books including Theoretical Nuclear Physics with John Blatt in 1952, Concepts of Particle Physics with Kurt Gottfried in 1984-1986, and an autobiography, The Joy of Insight: Passions of a Physicist, in 1991.

His first wife, Ellen (nee Tvede), whom he married in 1934, died in 1989. They were the parents of two children, Thomas Weisskopf and Karen Weisskopf Worth. In 1991 Weisskopf married Duscha Schmid. Weisskopf died on April 22, 2002, at the age of 93.

From the guide to the Victor Frederick Weisskopf papers, 1922-2002, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute Archives and Special Collections)

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Subjects:

  • Physics--History
  • Physics--Study and teaching
  • Science--History
  • Nuclear physics--Study and teaching
  • Political refugees
  • Science--Study and teaching--20th century
  • Physicists
  • Compound nucleus
  • Arms race
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology--Faculty
  • Relativity (Physics)
  • Quantum electrodynamics
  • Field theory (Physics)
  • Atomic theory
  • Nuclear fission--Security measures
  • Quantum physics
  • Science--Popularization
  • Quantum theory--Study and teaching
  • Nuclear reactions--Theory
  • Nuclear shell theory
  • Nuclear spectroscopy
  • Pauli exclusion principle
  • Physics
  • Nuclear arms control
  • World War, 1939-1945--Science
  • Wave mechanics
  • Science--Moral and ethical aspects
  • Science--Study and teaching
  • Nuclear reactions
  • Nuclear structure--Theory
  • Physics--Popular works
  • Physicists--Archives
  • Electrodynamics
  • Nuclear physics
  • Complementarity (Physics)
  • Physics--Research
  • Nuclear arms control--History
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Nuclear models
  • Quantum theory
  • Atomic bomb--Testing
  • Physics--History--20th century
  • Science
  • Quantum theory--History
  • Science--Social aspects
  • Quantum field theory
  • Physicists--Correspondence
  • Disarmament
  • Mesons
  • Nuclear structure
  • Science--International cooperation
  • Manhattan Project (U.S.)
  • Particles (Nuclear physics)--Research

Occupations:

  • Physicists
  • Physicists--Interviews

Places:

  • Germany (as recorded)
  • Zurich (Switzerland) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Europe (as recorded)