Heisenberg, Werner

(1901-1976)
   physicist; established the famous uncertainty principle, as a result of which attempts to detail the unobservable internal movements of the atom were abandoned. Born in Würzburg, he moved to Munich in 1910 when his father was appointed Professor of Greek at the university. After suffering the blockade*-induced shortages of the war, he ap-plauded the suppression of Bavaria's* socialist republic by the Freikorps.* In 1920 he enrolled at Munich and completed a doctorate in 1923 under Arnold Sommerfeld, over the protest of Wilhelm Wien, who objected to his ignorance of experimental physics. With Sommerfeld on leave, he spent his final year of study as Max Born's* assistant at Gottingen; he then remained until 1926, writ-ing his Habilitation in 1924, forming a rewarding relationship with Born and James Franck,* and formulating his matrix principle of quantum mechanics. Although fellow student Wolfgang Pauli* slowly convinced him that electrons did not orbit in atoms, he went to Copenhagen in 1926 to work with Niels Bohr, who was formulating a periodic table based on the existence of orbits. While he was in Copenhagen, he devised his principle of particle uncertainty; it helped destroy a purely deterministic concept of the universe. Although the principle was welcomed by many physicists, it was initially dismissed by such luminaries as Einstein,* Erwin Schrodinger, and Max Planck* as implying the denial of objective processes. In 1927, upon appointment at Leipzig, Heisenberg became Germany's youngest full professor. He played a key role in transforming Leip-zig's physics institute into a major center for quantum physics. Among his stu-dents were Felix Block, Edward Teller, and Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker. In 1932 he was named the Nobel laureate for physics.
   Although the NSDAP censured theoretical physics, Heisenberg remained in Germany after Hitler's* seizure of power. As a spokesman for German physics, he believed that his country needed him to protect its scientific reputation; no doubt his attachment to Germany, his consonance with its national revival, and a sense of professional duty all aided his decision. He was never a supporter of Nazi ideals; his physics was increasingly dubbed "Jewish science" as he was labeled a "white Jew*" and the "Ossietzky* of physics." Although he was thwarted in 1937 from succeeding Sommerfeld at Munich (he came closest to emigrating at this time), he was suddenly deemed Germany's leading nuclear specialist when in 1940 he published a report supporting the feasibility of chain reactions. In 1941, to focus on fission research, he became acting director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. While he was unsuited to experimental work, he retained the post until 1945.
   Captured and interned after the war, Heisenberg returned to Gottingen in 1946 as honorary professor and director of the city's new Max Planck Institute for Physics. He retained these titles when the institute moved in 1958 to Munich. His postwar commitment was to revitalize German science by seeking govern-ment involvement in scientific policy.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler; Cassidy, Uncertainty; DSB, vol. 17, suppl. 2; Macrakis, Surviving the Swastika.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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