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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Bohr and Heisenberg

Today is Danish physicist Niels Bohr's birthday and I thought I'd revisit my post about the movie Copenhagen, which portrayed the 1941 meeting between Bohr and German physicist Werner Heisenberg.

This video clip shows the two men arguing about working on nuclear research/bombs (sorry it's not in great condition) ....

And here's what I wrote in the earlier post ...

This week's movie from the library was Copenhagen, a 2002 British made-for-tv movie adapted from the play of the same name, and starring Daniel Craig (James Bond, Munich) as German physicist Werner Heisenberg and Stephen Rea as Danish physicist Niels Bohr. The film takes place in the present, in Copenhagen, where the ghosts of Bohr and his wife and Heisenberg visit the Bohr residence to reconstruct their 1941 meeting in order to figure out what exactly had occurred.

- Heisenberg gets off the train in Copenhagen

The backstory .... Bohr had been mentor and friend to Heisenberg in the 1920s and in 1927 they defended complementarity (quantum mechanics) at the Volta Conference. It was all good, - Heisenberg went on to publish the Uncertainty Principle and Bohr and Heisenberg came up with the Copenhagen interpretation.

- Heisenberg knocks on Bohr's door

But in 1933 Hitler came to power and in 1939 WWII began, about the same time that nuclear fission was discovered. In 1940 Germany took over Denmark, and Heisenberg, rather than accepting a job elsewhere, became part of Germany's nuclear energy project, while the Danish Bohr, part Jewish, became understandably worried. One year later, Heisenberg came to Copenhagen to visit Bohr. The visit was mysterious - no one can quite agree on why Heisenberg came or what the two men discussed, though there are opinions based on a 1956 letter Heisenberg sent to a journalist, and unsent letters Bohr wrote to Heisenberg in 1957 ...

In 1957, while the author Robert Jungk was working on the book Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, Heisenberg wrote to Jungk explaining that he had visited Copenhagen to communicate to Bohr his view that scientists on either side should help prevent development of the atomic bomb, that the German attempts were entirely focused on energy production and that Heisenberg's circle of colleagues tried to keep it that way. Heisenberg acknowledged that his cryptic approach of the subject had so alarmed Bohr that the discussion failed. Heisenberg nuanced his claims and avoided the implication that he and his colleagues had sabotaged the bomb effort; this nuance was lost in Jungk's original publication of the book, which implied that the German atomic bomb project was obstructed by Heisenberg. When Bohr saw Jungk's erroneous depiction in the Danish translation of the book, he disagreed. He drafted (but never sent) a letter to Heisenberg, stating that while Heisenberg had indeed discussed the subject of nuclear weapons in Copenhagen, Heisenberg had never alluded to the fact that he might be resisting efforts to build such weapons. Bohr dismissed the idea of any pact as hindsight. - link

- Heisenberg and Bohr exchange pleasantries

Bohr escaped Denmark in 1944 and eventually ended up contributing to the Manhattan Project in the US. In May 1945, Heisenberg was arrested in Germany by invading US forces and was kept for a while in the UK. In August of that same year, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place.

- Heisenberg and Bohr take a walk outside to escape being bugged by the Nazis

I liked the movie (though it was very talking heads), especially the way it connected Heisenberg's uncertainty principle with the idea that one can never be sure what's going on in another person's mind/heart. For more info, check out the PBS site for the movie.


Anonymous angie said...

Great post.The importance of a technical translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.

1:01 AM  

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