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Niels Bohr was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and humanitarian whose revolutionary theories on atomic structures helped shape research worldwide.
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Born on October 7, 1885, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Niels Bohr went on to become an accomplished physicist who came up with a revolutionary theory on atomic structures and radiation emission. He won the 1922 Nobel Prize in physics for his ideas and years later, after working on the Manhattan Project in the United States, called for responsible and peaceful applications of atomic energy across the world.
"Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it."
"An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a very narrow field."
"Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think."
Niels Bohr was born on October 7, 1885, in Copenhagen, Denmark, to mother Ellen Adler, who was part of a successful Jewish banking clan, and father Christian Bohr, a celebrated physiology academic. The young Bohr eventually attended Copenhagen University, where he received his master's and doctorate in physics by 1911. During the fall of the same year, Bohr traveled to Cambridge, England, where he was able to follow the Cavendish Laboratory work of scientist J.J. Thomson.
In 1912, Bohr wed Margrethe Nørlund. The couple would have six children; four survived to adulthood and one, Aage, would become a well-known physics scientist as well.
Bohr’s own research led him to theorize in a series of articles that atoms give off electromagnetic radiation as a result of electrons jumping to different orbit levels, departing from a previously held model espoused by Ernest Rutherford. Though Bohr's discovery would eventually be tweaked by other scientists, his ideas formed the basis of future atomic research.
After teaching at Manchester’s Victoria University, Bohr settled again at Copenhagen University in 1916 with a professorship position. Then, in 1920, he founded the university’s Institute of Theoretical Physics, which he would run indefinitely.
Bohr received the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on atomic structures, and he would continue to come up with revolutionary theories. He worked with Werner Heisenberg and other scientists on a new quantum mechanics principle connected to Bohr's concept of complementarity, which was initially presented at an Italian conference in 1927. The concept asserted that physical properties on an atomic level would be viewed differently depending on experimental parameters, hence explaining why light could be seen as both a particle and wave. Bohr would also come to apply this idea philosophically as well, with the belief that evolving concepts of physics deeply affected human perspectives. Another physicist by the name of Albert Einstein didn’t fully see eye to eye with all of Bohr's assertions, and their talks became renowned in scientific communities.
Bohr went on to work with the group of scientists who were at the forefront of research on nuclear fission during the late 1930s, to which he contributed the liquid droplet theory. Outside of his pioneering ideas, Bohr was known for his wit and warmth, and his humanitarian ethics would inform his later work.
With Adolf Hitler's rise in power, Bohr was able to offer German Jewish physicists refuge at his institute in Copenhagen, which in turn led to travel to the United States for many.
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