Bohr, Niels Henrik David (1885–1962)

Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who played a major role in the development of quantum theory. He was the first person to apply it with success to the problem of atomic structure (see Bohr atom).


Bohr worked in Britain with J. J. Thomson at Cambridge and Ernest Rutherford at Manchester before returning in 1916 to teach theoretical physics at the University of Copenhagen. He escaped from German-occupied Denmark during World War 2 and worked briefly on developing the atom bomb in the United States. He later returned to Copenhagen and worked for international cooperation.


Bohr used the quantum theory to explain the hydrogen spectrum and in the 1920s helped develop the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation. He was awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on atomic structure. During the 1930s his Institute of Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen became a haven for many Jewish and other physicists expelled by Hitler. In 1939 he took news of Lise Meitner's and Otto Hahn's uranium fission work to the United States and started the process that culminated in the manufacture of the atomic bomb. Bohr himself later worked at Los Alamos on the bomb, after escaping from German-occupied Denmark. A fervent advocate of atomic energy for peaceful uses, he organized the first Atoms for Peace Conference in 1955; in 1957 received the first Atoms for Peace Award.


His son, Aage Niels Bohr (1922–2099), shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physics with B. Mottleson and J. Rainwater for contributions made to the physics of the atomic nucleus.