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Victor Frederick Weisskopf

Victor Frederick Weisskopf

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Weisskopf redirects here. For people known under English version of that name, see Whitehead
-With common given names on further disambiguation pages:*Alan Whitehead *George Whitehead *Henry Whitehead *James Whitehead *John Whitehead...


Victor Frederick Weisskopf (September 19, 1908 – April 22, 2002) was an Austrian
Austrians are a nation and ethnic group, consisting of the population of the Republic of Austria and its historical predecessor states who share a common Austrian culture and Austrian descent....

-born Jewish American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 theoretical physicist. He did postdoctoral work with 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...

, Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and is famed for a number of important contributions to physics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933...

, Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or...

 and 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...

. During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 he worked at 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...

 on 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...

 to develop the atomic bomb, and later campaigned against the proliferation of nuclear weapons
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear proliferation is a term now used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the...


Weisskopf was born in 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...

 and earned his doctorate in physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 at the University of Göttingen in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 in 1931.

In the 1930s and 1940s, 'Viki', as everyone called him, made major contributions to the development of quantum theory, especially in the area of Quantum Electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

. One of his few regrets was that his insecurity about his mathematical abilities may have cost him a Nobel prize when he did not publish results (which turned out to be correct) about what is now known as the Lamb shift.

After World War II, Weisskopf joined the physics faculty at MIT, ultimately becoming head of the department.

Weisskopf was a co-founder and board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists
Union of Concerned Scientists
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit science advocacy group based in the United States. The UCS membership includes many private citizens in addition to professional scientists. James J...

. He served as director-general of CERN
The European Organization for Nuclear Research , known as CERN , is an international organization whose purpose is to operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory, which is situated in the northwest suburbs of Geneva on the Franco–Swiss border...

 from 1961 to 1966.

Weisskopf was awarded the Max Planck medal
Max Planck medal
The Max Planck medal is an award for extraordinary achievements in theoretical physics. It is awarded annually by the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft , the world's largest organization of physicists.-List of recipients:...

 in 1956 and the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca
Prix mondial Cino Del Duca
The Prix mondial Cino Del Duca is an international literary award.-Origins and operations:It was established in 1969 in France by Simone Del Duca to continue the work of her husband, publishing magnate Cino Del Duca .Designed to recognize and reward an author whose work constitutes, in a...

 in 1972, the National Medal of Science
National Medal of Science
The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and...

 (1980), the Wolf Prize (1981) and the Public Welfare Medal
Public Welfare Medal
The Public Welfare Medal is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "in recognition of distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare." It is the most prestigious honor conferred by the Academy...

 from the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...


Weisskopf was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was president of the American Physical Society
American Physical Society
The American Physical Society is the world's second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the world renowned Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than 20...

 (1960–61) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...


He was appointed by Pope Paul VI
Pope Paul VI
Paul VI , born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 21 June 1963 until his death on 6 August 1978. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, who had convened the Second Vatican Council, he decided to continue it...

 to the 70-member Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Pontifical Academy of Sciences
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a scientific academy of the Vatican, founded in 1936 by Pope Pius XI. It is placed under the protection of the reigning Supreme Pontiff. Its aim is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of related...

 in 1975, and in 1981 he led a team of four scientists sent by Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Blessed Pope John Paul II , born Karol Józef Wojtyła , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at of age. His was the second-longest documented pontificate, which lasted ; only Pope Pius IX ...

 to talk to President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

 about the need to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons.

He married Ellen Tvede. He was survived at death by his second wife Duscha.



  • V. Stefan (Editor). PHYSICS and SOCIETY. Essays in Honor of Victor Frederick Weisskopf by the International Community of Physicists. ISBN 1-56396-386-8

External links