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Emigrating from Germany to live in Manchester with Rudi Peierls


Getting a job in Manchester to escape the Nazis
Hans Bethe Scientist
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We received the papers by Chadwick about the discovery of the neutron, and I was extremely interested and offered to give a talk about it before the colloquium. But Sommerfeld and Gerlach - Gerlach had replaced Wien as the Professor of Experimental Physics - got wind that the students would demonstrate against it, so they advised me not to give that talk. I could talk in the Sommerfeld seminar, I could give my lectures on theoretical physics in Munich until late in the semester I got a letter that I had also been dismissed as Privatdozent. Now Sommerfeld was extremely well-known all over the world, and he was extremely concerned and he very soon procured for me a position for the fall in Manchester. He knew Sir Lawrence Bragg very well, and I got a job... teaching instead of Williams who was [the] theoretical lecturer there. And so I prepared to emigrate to... to England. Before that however, still in April, I got a letter from Heisenberg who asked me to become his assistant in place of Bloch, who of course had also been dismissed, and I had to write Heisenberg that I would love to do it but I was afraid that I had the same trouble in my ancestry.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: UK, James Chadwick, Arnold Sommerfeld, Walter Gerlach, Wilhelm Wien, William Lawrence Bragg, Werner Heisenberg, Felix Bloch

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008