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One cannot fully appreciate the work of Werner Heisenberg unless one
examines his contributions in the context of the time in which he lived. Werner
Karl Heisenberg was born in Wuerzburg, Germany, on December 5, 1901, and grew up
in academic surroundings, in a household devoted to the humanities. His father
was a professor at the University of Munich and undoubtedly greatly influenced
young Werner, who was a student at the Maximilian Gymnasium.
Heisenberg had the opportunity to work with many of the top physicists
in the world including Niels Bohr and Max Born. Like many of the top physicists
of the time Heisenberg received his doctorate at an early age. In Heisenberg\'s
case he received it at the young age of twenty three. Heisenberg was not just a
researcher. He was also a professor and author. During his career he taught at
many prestigious universities, including the Universities of Leipzig, Goettingen,
and Berlin. He also wrote many important books including, Physical Principles
of the Quantum Theory, Cosmic Radiation, Physics and Philosophy, and
Introduction to the Unified Theory of Elementary Particles. In 1932 he won the
Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in Quantum Mechanics.
With the Nazi\'s in power, and World War two on the horizon it was
inevitable that his German heritage would play a crucial role in his career.
Before Germany\'s blitzkrieg on Poland Heisenberg decided to make one final visit
of his friends in the West. Many tried to convince him to stay and accept a
professorship at Columbia, but Heisenberg declined. He felt that it was his
duty to preserve the foundation of science in Germany during the war. He also
believed that by staying in Germany during the war, he could help individual
German scientists. In fact, he did offer jobs to Jewish scientists when they
were fired from their posts at other universities. As time passed, Heisenberg
found that he was powerless to protect his friends. Heisenberg himself was
personally attacked, and his appointment at the University of Munich was blocked.
For over a year Heisenberg was attacked in the SS newspaper, which referred to
him as a "white Jew." The attack became so threatening that Heisenberg\'s mother,
who had a slight connection to Himmler\'s family, wrote to Himmler\'s mother
asking Himmler to intercede. Himmler personally cleared Heisenberg of the
charges leveled against him a year later, but he was told to study science and
avoid discussing scientists. The strain of the investigation surely affected
During the war Heisenberg worked on the German A-bomb project along with
a number of other German scientists. It has been proposed in the novel
Heisenberg\'s War, written by Thomas Powers, that Heisenberg deliberately
sabotaged this project to keep the bomb out of Hitler\'s hands. After the war
was over, all of the scientists in Germany working on the A-bomb project,
including Heisenberg, were interned in England to be questioned about their work
on the project.
Heisenbergs nationalism eventually ruined many of his academic
friendships. His close relationship with Neils Bohr was destroyed by his
decision to remain in Germany during the war. His failure to be more specific
about his stand in whether or not to seriously work to develop a German bomb
played an important part in his inability to reestablish ties with friends who
moved to the West. The creative interaction with many leading scientists prior
to the war was not resumed at the war\'s end.
Heisenberg\'s most important finding, the Uncertainty Principle is the
corner stone of Quantum Mechanics. However, many advances in Quantum Mechanics
had to be made before Heisenberg found it. Everything started with Rutherford\'s
model of the atom. Consisting of a positively charged central nucleus,
surrounded by orbiting planetary electrons. Around the same time that
Rutherford was discovering the basic structure of the atom, Plank did some
important work also. Finding that energy from an oscillating particle is
emitted not continuously, but in packets of energy he developed the Quantum
Theory of Radiation. From this came the universal constant h which played a
large role in Heisenbergs uncertainty principle. Neils Bohr then made a new
model of the atom, which combined both Rutherford\'s and Plank\'s work. This new
model accounted for known patterns of atomic radiation as seen in spectra.
However, what Bohr wrote on paper about the electron activity and what other
physicists were observing were two different things. Bohr had developed his
quantum theory of the atom by discarding the idea of a classical frequency
associated with the orbit of an electron, but he still retained the concept of
the classical orbit. Heisenberg went one step further and discarded
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Quantum mechanics, Nobel laureates in Physics, Philosophers of science, Werner Heisenberg, Elementary particles, Niels Bohr, Heisenbergs microscope, Introduction to quantum mechanics, Uncertainty principle, Mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, Copenhagen, Electron
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