Neils Bohr

Noble prize-winning Danish physicist born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1885. As the
head of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen (1920-
1962), Bohr was one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics. Bohr was the
academic mentor and personal friend of Werner Heisenberg; their combined efforts
resulted in a logical interpretation of the physical meaning of quantum mechanics
known as the Copenhagen Interpretation. Conflicting allegiances during WWII severely
strained their friendship.

Bohr married Margrethe Norlund in 1912. They had six children, all sons, but Harald and
Christian, the eldest, were lost, Christian in 1934, thrown overboard in a storm during a
sailing excursion with his father and two family friends. Bohr’s mother was Jewish, which
put him and his family in danger of Nazi persecution. He actively aided the emigration
of other physicists from pre-war Germany, and protected Jews in Nazi-occupied
Denmark until 1943, when he and his family were forced to flee. They escaped to
Sweden in a fishing boat.

As an émigré to America, Bohr assisted Manhattan Project scientists with the
development of the atomic bomb. But even as early as 1944 Bohr expressed his
reservations about the destructive potential of nuclear energy, taking an active role in
advocating for the control of nuclear weapons by petitioning Winston Churchill and
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both leaders rejected Bohr’s recommendations. Bohr was the first
person to receive an Atoms for Peace Award as a result of his post-war efforts to
promote the responsible use of nuclear research. Niels Bohr died in 1962.

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