Tag Archives: Denmark

Jew of the Week: Niels Bohr

Niels Henrik David Bohr (1885-1962) was born in Copenhagen. His mother was from a prominent Jewish-Danish family, and he was partly named after his grandfather, David Baruch Adler, an influential banker and parliamentarian. Bohr’s father was a famous physiology professor, who rejected his Lutheran roots in favour of atheism. (Bohr himself would later renounce any association with the Church of Denmark.) At 20, Bohr won a gold medal from the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences for his work on water viscosity and surface tension. He went on to earn a Master’s in mathematics and a Ph.D in physics. Bohr combined Rutherford’s ideas on the atom with Planck’s quantum theories to produce a revolutionary new atomic model, known as the Bohr model. This model finally made sense of the mysterious properties of atoms, and solved a major hurdle that baffled scientists for over 30 years. The discovery would earn Bohr a Nobel Prize in Physics. By 1917, Bohr was the Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen, and sought to establish a new centre for physics research. Bohr got the government on board, and after receiving large donations from wealthy Danish Jews (together with the Carlsberg brewery), founded the Institute of Theoretical Physics – now known as the Niels Bohr Institute. There, his students discovered the 72nd element of the Periodic Table – whose existence Bohr had proposed – and named it Hafnium, the Latin name for Copenhagen. When the Nazis came to power, Bohr opened the doors of his institute to fleeing Jewish scientists. Denmark itself would soon be under Nazi control. In 1943, Bohr was informed that he would be arrested since, despite his mixed ancestry, he was considered a Jew according to the Nuremberg Laws. Bohr fled to Sweden, where he met with Swedish King Gustaf V to convince him to open Sweden’s doors to Jewish refugees. Bohr succeeded, and over 7000 Danish Jews were rescued and given asylum in Sweden. He then headed to England, where he assisted the war effort through the British “Tube Alloys” weapons project, before heading to the US to advise the Manhattan Project. Although he claimed his help was not needed to make the first nuclear bomb, others have admitted that he solved an important puzzle that made it happen. Bohr campaigned against the use of nuclear weapons for the rest of his life. It was his vision that resulted in the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the use of nuclear power. Bohr went on to become the President of the Royal Danish Academy of Arts and Sciences. He chaired the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics, and played a central role in the founding of the world-famous CERN research organization. In addition to his monumental work in quantum physics, Bohr was a noted philosopher. Along with countless other awards, Bohr was bestowed the Order of the Elephant, the highest honour in Denmark (usually reserved only for royalty and heads of state), and is on the Danish 500-krone bill. He is one of just a handful of people who has an element on the Periodic Table named after him (bohrium).

Words of the Week

The institution of ‘retirement’, which pushes million of men and women to the sidelines of society each year, is a tragic waste of human life and resources.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe

Bohr on the Danish 500 krone bill

Jew of the Week: Edward Teller

Father of the Hydrogen Bomb

Edward Teller

Edward Teller

Edward Teller (1908-2003) was burn in Budapest to a Hungarian-Jewish father and German-Jewish mother. He did not speak until age three, and was thought to be mentally retarded. However, he soon showed his true genius, and went on to get a degree in chemistry, followed by a Ph.D in quantum physics. Fleeing the Nazis, Teller made his way to England, then Denmark, and finally the United States, along the way working with some of the greatest scientists of the time, including Heisenberg, Fermi and Bohr. By the time he was a US citizen, World War II was in full swing and Teller wanted to contribute to the war effort. Together with Hans Bethe, he developed a shock-wave theory that was instrumental for missile technology. In 1942, he was invited to join the Manhattan Project, and contributed greatly to the development of the first atom bomb, despite the fact that he already came up with a stronger “fusion” bomb, and insisted on developing the latter instead. In July of 1945, Teller was among the few who witnessed history’s first atomic blast. After the Soviets tested their first nuke, President Truman pushed for the development of the more powerful fusion bomb (aka the hydrogen bomb), and Teller’s dream finally came true. By 1952, Teller was well-known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb”. At the same time, Teller worked to develop nuclear safety standards, and researched meltdown-proof reactors. He would go on to serve as head of some of the finest laboratories in America, and founded the Department of Applied Sciences at UC Davis. Perhaps most significantly, Teller was instrumental in helping Israel develop its nuclear technology, visiting the nascent state 6 times in the span of 4 years, advising both military chiefs and prime ministers. He convinced the Israeli government not to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and was the one who later informed the CIA that Israel was in possession of nuclear weapons. Teller continued his research until his last days; his final paper (on thorium reactors) was published posthumously. His work led to breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, nuclear and military technology. He passed away with a list of awards appended to his name, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Words of the Week

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
– Theodore Roosevelt