George Placzek

George Placzek

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Georg Placzek was a Czech physicist.

Born in Brno
Brno by population and area is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, the largest Moravian city, and the historical capital city of the Margraviate of Moravia. Brno is the administrative centre of the South Moravian Region where it forms a separate district Brno-City District...

, Moravia
Moravia is a historical region in Central Europe in the east of the Czech Republic, and one of the former Czech lands, together with Bohemia and Silesia. It takes its name from the Morava River which rises in the northwest of the region...

, Placzek studied physics in Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 and Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

. He worked with Hans Bethe
Hans Bethe
Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and...

, Edward Teller
Edward Teller
Edward Teller was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," even though he did not care for the title. Teller made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy , and surface physics...

, Rudolf Peierls
Rudolf Peierls
Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE was a German-born British physicist. Rudolf Peierls had a major role in Britain's nuclear program, but he also had a role in many modern sciences...

, Werner Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory...

, Victor Weisskopf, Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi was an Italian-born, naturalized American physicist particularly known for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics...

, Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

, Lev Landau
Lev Landau
Lev Davidovich Landau was a prominent Soviet physicist who made fundamental contributions to many areas of theoretical physics...

, Edoardo Amaldi
Edoardo Amaldi
Edoardo Amaldi was an Italian physicist.He was born in Carpaneto Piacentino, son of Ugo Amaldi, professor of mathematics at the University of Padua, and Luisa Basini....

, Emilio Segrè, Leon van Hove
Léon Van Hove
Léon Van Hove was a Belgian physicist and a former Director General of CERN. He developed a scientific career spanning mathematics, solid state physics, elementary particle and nuclear physics to cosmology.-Biography:...

 and many other prominent physicists of his time. His wife, Els Placzek (née Andriesse) was an ex-wife of a physicist Hans von Halban
Hans von Halban
Hans von Halban was a French physicist, of Austrian-Jewish descent.- Family :He was descended on his father's side from Polish Jews, who left Kraków for Vienna in the 1850s...


Placzek's major domains of scientific work involve a fundamental theory of Raman scattering
Raman scattering
Raman scattering or the Raman effect is the inelastic scattering of a photon. It was discovered by Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman and Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan in liquids, and by Grigory Landsberg and Leonid Mandelstam in crystals....

, molecular spectroscopy
Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative...

 in gases and liquids, neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

 physics and mathematical physics
Mathematical physics
Mathematical physics refers to development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines this area as: "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and...

. Together with Otto Frisch, he suggested a direct experimental proof of nuclear fission. Together with Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 and others, he was instrumental in clarifying the role of Uranium 235 for the possibility of nuclear chain reaction.

During his stay in Landau's circle in Kharkov around 1937, Placzek witnessed reality of the Stalinistic regime. His first-hand experience from this stay influenced political opinions of his close friends, Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Oppenheimer
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist and professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with Enrico Fermi, he is often called the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II project that developed the first...

 and Edward Teller in particular.

Later, Placzek was the only Czech at some leading positions in the Manhattan project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

, where he worked from 1943-1946 as a member of the British Mission
Tube Alloys
Tube Alloys was the code-name for the British nuclear weapon directorate during World War II, when the development of nuclear weapons was kept at such a high level of secrecy that it had to be referred to by code even in the highest circles of government...

; first in Canada as the leader of a theoretical division at the Montreal Laboratory
Montreal Laboratory
The Montreal Laboratory in Montreal, Quebec, Canada was established by the National Research Council of Canada to undertake nuclear research, and to take over some of the scientists and projects from the Tube Alloys nuclear project in Britain...

 and then (since May 1945) in Los Alamos
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

, later replacing his friend Hans Bethe as the leader of the theoretical group. Since 1948, Placzek was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study
The Institute for Advanced Study, located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States, is an independent postgraduate center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. It was founded in 1930 by Abraham Flexner...

 in Princeton
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton is a community located in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. It is best known as the location of Princeton University, which has been sited in the community since 1756...

, USA. Placzek's premature death in Zurich
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich...

was very likely a suicide influenced by his long-time serious illness. Recently, many new facts about George Placzek and his family roots emerged in connection with a Symposium held in Placzek's memory.