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Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, Controversy in Science

By Edited Aug 5, 2016 1 3

Niels Bohr (1885 -1962)

When I first began researching Niels Bohr, I thought him to be another brilliant physicist, reading about his discoveries, his Nobel Prize, his escape from Denmark during Hitlers takeover. These things were important, but I began to see some of the unbearable burdens scientists must have to endure because of the demands placed upon them due to what they have to offer, especially when it comes to warfare. This story of Bohr and Heisenberg brought me sadness that their friendship was devastated by the decisions Heisenberg had to make, and the lack of communication that never revealed the true intent, hurt and disspointment that was felt by both men.

Bohr was first introduced to his new found friend while lecturing in Copenhagen. Heisenberg raised his hand to dispute a mathmatical theory. Bohr was impressed and asked to speak to him more, which was the beginning of a strong bond of friendship and the atom.

Bohr's relationship with Heisenberg was the most controversial in the world of science, and never understood until 25 years after their first meeting and their deaths. That meeting changed the world and their relationship. Heisenberg died feeling that Bohr never knew his real intent and wanted to be understood and forgiven. Bohr wanted to put it behind them after the war and not speak of it. It was only until the night they met in 1956 after a book was published telling Heisenberg's story, that Bohr agreed to talk about it. He was feeling tired that night and said they would discuss it the next morning, but Bohr became very ill, being sent back to Copenhagen where he soon died. What Heisenberg never knew was that Bohr had written a series of letters expressing his recollection and undstanding of their meeting on that fateful day. These letters were many times over a course of 5 years, but never sent. How sad to think that they both died in such pain and loss over the loss of their treasured friendship. To sum up this entire meeting and the history that followed was stated by Bohr in these words, "A great matter for mankind was at issue in which, despite our personal friendship, we had to be regarded as representatives of two sides engaged in mortal combat".

Their friendship was formed and bound in a journey to help mankind, unlocking the mysteries of the atom, but later torn apart by the atom's unstoppable power and the moral burden that it acompanied.

Resources:

BBC History Video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3325831859220140461#

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Comments

Aug 30, 2010 11:06pm
sound_foundation
This is why I love infobarrel! Where else can I randomly stumble upon a great article about Bohr & Heisenberg!
Aug 31, 2010 12:40am
AJReviews
Exactly....I decided to put up all my essays from my physics class...someone is bound to benefit from my research.
Sep 23, 2010 10:19pm
Simon_Gunson
Personally I find this article sickly sweet and disturbingly misleading. Heisenberg was ardently in favour of creating an atom bomb at the Harnack Haus conference of July 1942, yet after the war misportrayed himself as sweetly innocent of such ambitions. Heisenberg cited his relationship with Bohr and tried to mis-represent that he did not support the Nazi cause. Bohr was furious about this following the war. Bohr's parents had been arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Heisenberg said to Bohr that he could not help. Heisenberg was looking for Bohr's help with the German nuclear project and rightly was not willing to be party to it, though he probably feigned compliance. Margaret Gowing wrote a book, "Now it Can Be Told," countering Heisenberg's misinformation. I can't believe Heisenberg's lies are still treated as fact so long after being denounced by Bohr and Gowing's book.
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