Physics Professors

Niels Bohr
He was the head of his prestigious Institute of Theoretical Physics at the outbreak of WWII. A Danish Jew, he outwardly protested the Nazi takeover of his country, and he was evacuated to Britain in 1943. He continued his work in Britain and America, and he became very concerned as to the fate that could possibly befall humanity at the hands of The Bomb. In 1944 he tried unsuccessfully to persuade FDR and Winston Churchill to seek international cooperation in dealing with nuclear weapons. He sent an open letter to the United Nations advocating an “open world,” led the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1955 in Geneva, and helped create the European Council for Nuclear Research in furtherance of this cause. For his efforts he received the first U.S. Atoms for Peace Award in 1957.

Albert Einstein
He became a German citizen in 1914, but in 1933 he renounced his citizenship and immigrated to America as the Nazis took over Germany. He had been against German military maneuvers since WWI. He became the Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton University and retired from that post in 1945. Before that, in 1940, he had obtained his America citizenship. In 1944 he handwrote his 1905 relativity theory and auctioned it for 6 million dollars for the benefit of the Allies. After the completion of the war he was a leader in the World Government Movement. He was offered the Presidency of Israel, but had to decline due to poor health. He was able to collaborate with Dr. Chaim Weizmann in establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem however. One week prior to his death in 1955, he allowed his name to appear on a manifesto calling for an end to nuclear weapons.

Max Planck
Born in Germany, was esteemed for his many contributions to physics, but his personal life was a tragedy. His daughters died in childbirth, his wife succumbed to illness, his older son died in WWI, and his second son was executed for trying to assassinate Hitler. He remained in Germany throughout WWII and managed not to be executed despite his outspoken anti-Nazism. After the war he became president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute that was renamed in his honor, but he died soon after in 1947.

Werner Heisenberg
He made his most significant contribution to physics with the uncertainty principle. During WWII, he was one of only a few other scientists (including Planck) to remain in Germany while all the rest rushed out in a mass exodus. However, unlike Planck, Heisenberg eventually worked with the Nazis, spending five years on their nuclear bomb project, even though his initial opposition meant that at the beginning of the war his safety was sometimes uncertain. He was imprisoned by the allies for a time after the war but eventually returned to Germany to reestablish the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Planck’s name.

In conclusion, Bohr and Einstein were the most vehemently opposed to the war. By their actions they illustrated that they wanted their scientific advancements to benefit those powers that they saw to be morally correct. Planck is very similar to these two, but he did not go as far as even leaving his country, although he did oppose their actions. Heisenberg seems to have believed that science was science, and that the advancement of it was a good thing even if you’re working for the wrong guy. He focused on his work, not who he worked for. Personally, I believe that the moral high road is the way to go, rather than betraying your morals for the sake of science.

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