Archive for category Science
Einstein was a refugee…
Posted by cathannabel in Genocide, Refugees, Science, Second World War on June 17, 2013
… and so were an astonishing number of the other great physicists of the first half of the twentieth century.
These famous photographs are from the 1927 and 1933 Solvay Physics Conferences, and given the dates, it is interesting to ponder what became of those gathered there, not in terms of their scientific contribution (about which I am not qualified to speak) but how they fared as Europe was engulfed in barbarism.
A. Piccard, E. Henriot, P. Ehrenfest, E. Herzen, Th. de Donder, E. Schrödinger, J.E. Verschaffelt, W. Pauli, W. Heisenberg, R.H. Fowler, L. Brillouin;
P. Debye, M. Knudsen, W.L. Bragg, H.A. Kramers, P.A.M. Dirac, A.H. Compton, L. de Broglie, M. Born, N. Bohr;
I. Langmuir, M. Planck, M. Skłodowska-Curie, H.A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, P. Langevin, Ch.-E. Guye, C.T.R. Wilson, O.W. Richardson
Erwin Schrodinger left Germany in 1933 to work, in the UK, but took up a post in Austria. In 1939, after the Anschluss, Schrödinger was dismissed from the University and fled to Italy. Wolfgang Pauli fled to the United States in 1940. Leon Brillouin resigned from his post in France after the Occupation, and went to the United States. Peter Debye left Germany in early 1940, and became a professor at Cornell. Max Born was suspended from his post in 1933 – he emigrated to Britain, where he took a job at St John’s College, Cambridge.
Niels Bohr gave refugees from Nazism temporary jobs at the Institute, provided them with financial support, arranged for them to be awarded fellowships or found them places at various institutions around the world. Denmark was occupied by the Germans, and in 1943, fearing arrest, he fled to Sweden, where he persuaded the King to make public Sweden’s willingness to provide asylum, helping to effect the rescue of many Danish Jews.
Albert Einstein was visiting the US when Hitler came to power in 1933 and did not go back to Germany. He spoke at the inaugural public meeting of the Academic Assistance Committee (later CARA).
The seventh Conference, in 1933: Seated (left to right): Erwin Schrödinger, Irène Joliot, Niels Henrik David Bohr, Abram Ioffe, Marie Curie, Paul Langevin, Owen Willans Richardson, Lord Ernest Rutherford, Théophile de Donder, Maurice de Broglie, Louis de Broglie, Lise Meitner, James Chadwick. Standing (left to right): Émile Henriot, Francis Perrin, Frédéric Joliot, Werner Heisenberg, Hendrik Anthony Kramers, E. Stahel, Enrico Fermi, Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, Paul Dirac, Peter Joseph William Debye, Nevill Francis Mott, Blas Cabrera, George Gamow, Walther Bothe, Patrick Blackett, M.S. Rosenblum, Jacques Errera, Ed. Bauer, Wolfgang Pauli, Jules-Émile Verschaffelt, M. Cosyns, E. Herzen, John Douglas Cockcroft, Charles Drummond Ellis, Rudolf Peierls, Auguste Piccard, Ernest O. Lawrence, Léon Rosenfeld.
Max Cosyns, from Belgium, joined the Resistance and was imprisoned in Dachau. Enrico Fermi left Italy in 1938 to escape Mussolini’s racial laws that affected his Jewish wife, and emigrated to the United States. Rudolf Peierls
was studying on a Rockefeller Scholarship at Cambridge when Hitler came
to power – he was granted leave to remain in Britain, and worked in Manchester
under a fund set up for refugees.
Lise Meitner, an Austrian Jew, escaped to the Netherlands, with help from Dutch physicists Dirk Coster and Adriaan Fokker. She was forced to travel under cover to the Dutch border, where Coster persuaded German immigration officers that she had permission to travel to the Netherlands. She later said that she left Germany forever with 10 marks in her purse. From the Netherlands she went on to Stockholm, and worked with Niels Bohr.
George Gamow worked at a number of Soviet establishments before deciding to flee Russia because of increased oppression. In 1933 he was suddenly granted permission to attend the Solvay Conference. He attended, with his wife, and arranged to extend their stay. Over the next year, Gamow obtained temporary work at the Curie Institute, University of London and University of Michigan.
In addition –
Ugo Fano left Italy for the US in 1939 because of anti-Semitism. Liviu Librescu was born in 1930 to a Romanian Jewish family, and was deported first to a labour camp and then a ghetto in Focsani. Walter Kohn came to England with the Kindertransport after the annexation of Austria. Both of his parents were killed in the Holocaust. Svein Rosseland fled Norway after the German occupation and went to the US. Otto Stern resigned his post at the University of Hamburg in 1933 and became Professor of Physics at the Carnegie Institute. Guido Beck studied physics in Vienna. Jewish born, he travelled in the 1930s to avoid persecution in Germany, but was imprisoned in France in 1937 at the start of the war – in 1941 he fled to Portugal and then in 1943 to Argentina. Felix Bloch left Germany immediately after Hitler came to power, and emigrated to work at Stanford University. James Franck left his post in Germany and continued his research in the United States. Otto Robert Frisch left Vienna for London to work at Birkbeck College. Hilde Levi fled Denmark when the round-ups of Jews began, moving to Sweden, where she worked at the Wenner-Gren Institute for Experimental Biology in Stockholm. Edward Teller left Göttingen in 1933 through the aid of the International Rescue Committee, worked in the UK and then in Copenhagen with Niels Bohr, before being invited to the United States in 1935. Arthur von Hippel left Germany in 1933, mainly because his wife was Jewish, but due also to his political stance against the new regime – he was able to secure a position in Turkey, then spent a year in Denmark before moving to the US to work at MIT. Viki Weisskopf was born in Vienna, and worked with Bohr at his institute in Copenhagen – Bohr then helped him find a position in the US.
The 24 Hour Inspire!
Posted by cathannabel in Events, Science on February 23, 2013
The 24 Hour Inspire!
24 hours of lectures in celebration of Dr Tim Richardson
Thursday 28 February-Friday 1 March
Hicks Building, Lecture Theatre 1
University of Sheffield, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH
Tickets on the door, minimum £1 per lecture or £5 for the full programme. Refreshments on sale throughout the event. Inspiration for Life raises funds for Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and local hospices (Rotherham, St Luke’s and Bluebell Wood).
For more information, please visit our website, http://www.inspirationforlife.co.uk.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @inspirationfor2
THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY
17.00-18.00 Introduction – Catherine Annabel, Chair of Inspiration for Life
Is Science Magic? – Professor Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation and Professor Tony Ryan, OBE, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Science
New science and technology can seem like magic – but how deeply do the connections go? New sciences like nano-technology and synthetic biology promise magical possibilities, like invisibility cloaks, shape-shifting objects that make themselves, and miniature robot surgeons to cure all our diseases. Can science, like the promise of magic, solve all our problems and realise our dreams? Or are we in danger of waiting around for magical answers to problems like climate change and sustainable energy rather than doing the hard work of solving our problems with the tools we have? This discussion between Tony Ryan and Richard Jones will explore some new science that looks like magic, but is very real, as well as finding some unexpected historical connections between the worlds of science and magic.
18.00-18.30 The End is Nigh: Impact Probabilities and Risk – Dr Simon Goodwin, Reader in Astrophysics
How often are we hit by asteroids? What risks are associated with impacts from space and what can we do about them?
18.30-19.00 Hope for the Innocent? – Professor Claire McGourlay, Innocence Project & Freelaw Manager, School of Law
A small insight into miscarriages of justice in the UK and the inspirational work that students do across the country in helping to give hope to innocent people.
19.00-19.30 Future Gas Turbine Technology -Dr Jamie McGourlay, Partnership Manager, Rolls Royce plc
Jamie McGourlay is the Rolls-Royce Partnership Manager with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) of the University of Sheffield, an environment literally at the cutting edge in the development of high-value manufacturing technologies. His presentation will look at the current to future challenges involved in the design, manufacture and operation of the world’s best gas turbine technology.
19.30-20.00 Though We Fail, Our Truths Prosper: John Lilburne (1614-1657) and the slow victory of human rights
Professor Mike Braddick, Professor of History, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Arts & Humanities John Lilburne was a radical campaigner for the rights of the ‘freeborn Englishman’ during the English civil war and revolution. He was on trial for his life three times, and in prison or exile for most of his adult life. Despite these ordeals, his central political ideas are now taken for granted, and many of his specific suggestions have become central to our constitution. They have also had a liberating influence around the world. I will give a brief account of his life and ideas, how he came to have them, and how his political tactics have provided a model for later radicals. It is a dramatic and inspiring vindication of his famous claim that despite the apparent failure and suffering he experienced, the truths for which he was campaigning would, in the end, win out: ‘though we fail, our truths prosper’.
20.00-20.30 Searching for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider -Professor Dan Tovey, Professor of Particle Physics
On 4 July 2012 the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the CERN Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of a new particle believed to be the long sought-after Higgs boson. This talk will describe the background to the discovery and how it was made, and explain its significance for fundamental physics and our understanding of the universe at the smallest and largest scales.
20.30-21.30 Beyond Dentistry: On The Mouth, Kissing and Love – Dr Karen Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Cultural History/Academic in Residence at Bank Street Arts, and Dr Barry Gibson, Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology, School of Clinical Dentistry
The meanings given to the mouth have changed over time. Our modern dental rituals might be part of a longer ‘de-spiritualisation’ of the body. In the end, though, let’s not forget kissing and love …
21.30-22.00 This is not a Lecture. Stories of Wellbeing – Professor Brendan Stone, Professor of Social Engagement and the Humanities
This talk will tell stories of personal journeys, journeys which have been deeply informed by the storied lives of others. The journey of the self may be to seek meaning, affirmation, peace, or connection, but is often diverted or abandoned when illness or trouble strike. How can we retrace our steps and take up our route again at such moments of loss?
22.00-22.30 From Bones to Bridges – Gaining Strength from Structure – Dr Matthew Gilbert, Reader in Civil & Structural Engineering
Why might the internal structure of bones be of interest to the designers of buildings and bridges? How does the layout of elements in a structure affect its strength? And how can we identify layouts with the ‘best’ properties?
22.30-23.00 The Big Bang Theory of Lifelong Learning (in which Sheldon teaches Penny Physics) – Dr Willy Kitchen, Director of Learning and Teaching, Institute for Lifelong Learning
In this brief talk, I will offer up some of the essential ingredients necessary to inspire lifelong learning, drawing upon my own experiences of working with a wide range of adults returning to learning after a significant break from education. As a jumping off point for my discussions, I will be offering Sheldon some feedback on the approach he takes to teaching Penny Physics.
23.00-23.30 The EU’s Fight against Cancer – Professor Tammy Hervey, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law, School of Law
The European Union is a trade organisation, concerned with creating markets and economic development. For a long time, it had no formal powers to develop health policies of any sort, and even now, its powers are limited. And yet the EU has contributed to the fight against cancer in numerous ways, including using policies, resources, and laws. This lecture will explain the history of the EU’s fight against cancer, and outline what more could be done in the future.
23.30-00.30 Taking up the Ghost – Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of National Fairground Archive, and Head of Cultural Engagement
From Robertsons’s fantasamagoria in the 1790s to the modern day theatrical horror promenade show, the staging of haunted attractions as popular entertainment has been part of our history for many years. This paper seeks to look at three historical entertainment concepts which incorporate or use as their basis the uncanny, the supernatural and sensory deprivation, incorporating technological practices from the magic lantern, photographer and the cinematograph to demonstrate how the haunted illusion works in popular entertainment.
FRIDAY 1 MARCH
00.30-01.00 The Blues of Physics – Dr Ed Daw, Senior Lecturer in Particle Physics & Astrophysics
Physics can be a great and wonderful joy. And it can also give you the Blues. Fortunately I was given the Blues independently of being given Physics, so when the latter drives me bananas, the former can step in and keep me slightly insane. Please come to my ‘lecture’ and listen to my attempts to keep myself slightly, and joyfully, off-kilter.
01.00-01.30 Deep Sky Astronomy and Astrophysics – Professor Paul Crowther, Professor of Astrophysics
I will present astronomical images of star clusters, nebulae, galaxies obtained with large ground-based telescopes (ESOs Very Large Telescope) and space-telescopes (Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel) together with an explanation of the astrophysics behind these inspirational and beautiful images.
01.30-02.00 Light of Life – Dr Ashley Cadby, Lecturer in Soft Matter Physics
Humans and nature both use light for a variety of reasons. In this talk I will take some specific examples from nature and show how, given several hundred million years, evolution has perfected the control of light to perform some remarkable feats of engineering.
02.00-02.30 How to Make the Perfect Cuppa – Dr Matthew Mears, Lecturer, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Not all physics research is serious and swamped in mathematics! Tim firmly believed that you should have fun and explore the field away from the expected route, a philosophy I have enjoyed following. In this talk I will discuss what happens when a) a physicist starts crossing subject boundaries in strange directions, and b) he gets fed up with his brew going cold.
02.30-03.30 A Beginners Guide to Nano – Professor Mark Geoghegan, Professor of Soft Matter Physics
This presentation will cover the origins and applications of nanotechnology. A working definition for nanotechnology will be presented with examples from various areas of technology where nano might be used. In particular, I shall discuss how nanotechnology might find an important role in solving the great issues facing us in the 21st century. You will be encouraged to consider what these might be. Fears about unleashing this technology on mankind will be discussed, and we shall consider, by comparing the physics of the macroscale with physics of the nanoscale, why impending apocalypse is not going to happen.
03.30-04.00 Pet calves: The science of drumming – Professor Nigel Clarke, Professor of Condensed Matter Theory, Head of Physics & Astronomy
Drums are probably the oldest of musical instruments, and their basic form has changed little over the centuries. In the 1950s a major revolution took place with the introduction of the synthetic drumhead, which very quickly gained universal acceptance, replacing calfskin and other animal skins, as the material of choice. This was driven not by musical benefits but by pragmatism. We will look at the science behind drums and drum-skins, including the way in which drums vibrate, the pitchless nature of many drums, the implications for tuning and the relative merits of synthetic and natural drum-skins.
04.00-05.00 The Origin of Mass – Dr Stathes Paganis, Reader in Particle Physics
What are we made of? What is mass? Einstein tells us that mass is energy: E=mc^2. Basic physics tells us that the mass of our body comes from the chemical elements that make us, water for example. Water is made of hydrogen and oxygen and these are made of protons, neutrons and electrons spinning around them. How deep do we have to look for the answer? The talk presents a travel to the origins of matter and explains how experiments show that mass is not due to the Higgs boson but due to quantum mechanical energy stored in protons and neutrons one millionth of a second after the Big Bang.
05.00-05.30 Red Wine and Tea: Short tales about Astringency – Dr Patrick Fairclough, Reader in Polymer Chemistry
I will wander, often aimlessly, through ideas around how your mouth senses changes not in taste but in viscosity (thickness). How this leads to ideas behind the science of astringency, and how the tannin in tea and red wine induces these changes. Astringency is poorly understood with conflicting views from taste experts, physicists, biologists, industrial scientists and “marketeers”. This will clearly require me to drink red wine during a lecture, something that I often felt the need to do.
05.30-06.30 Elena Under Her Skin – Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, Professor of Enterprise & Engineering Education, Department of Mechanical Engineering
What happens when people see past the front cover of your life? Are you still able to have a happy, successful and rewarding work/life experience? Does one achieve despite or because of our mixture of experiences and attributes? Elena will use her life as a point of conversation with the audience and reflect on various aspects of diversity in the workplace such as religion, sexuality, nationality and gender.
06.30-07.00 Inspiration, Risk and the Politics of Fear – Professor Matthew Flinders, Professor of Parliamentary Government & Governance, Department of Politics
A reflection on the nature of life and politics in the twenty-first century. This will include a discussion of hyper-democracy and the politics of fear in order to carve out a new approach to understanding the limits and possibilities of democratic politics.
07.00-07.30 Gas Sensing Biscuits and Other Research by ‘Team Tim’ – Dr Alan Dunbar, Lecturer in Energy, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering
Some of the work published by Dr Tim Richardson’s research group ‘Team Tim’ will be presented. This involved developing gas sensors which change colour upon exposure to volatile organic gases. This talk will gently introduce the porphyrin molecules used in these gas sensors and explain why they are sometimes described as being like biscuits.
07.30-08.00 Soaps, Bubbles and Cells – Dr Andrew Parnell, Research Associate, Department of Physics & Astronomy
The talk and demonstrations will highlight the amazing properties of soap molecules and how very similar structures make up the walls of our cells and ultimately help to construct the complex compartments essential for biological life.
08.00-08.30 Health Informatics: Opportunities and Challenges in the 21st Century – Professor Peter Bath, Professor of Health Informatics, Information School
Health Informatics concerns the use of digital information and digital technologies in health and medical care to improve health and well-being among patients and the public. This lecture will examine some of the exciting opportunities and challenges in this fast-moving field. It will draw on recent research undertaken to examine the use of NHS Direct by older people and will discuss the implications of this for the new 111 service.
08.30-09.00 Infinity! – Dr Paul Mitchener, Lecturer in Mathematics, School of Mathematics & Statistics
The plan is to talk about what infinity means mathematically. This will include a precise definition, which leads to the surprising idea that there is more than one type of infinity.
09.00-09.30 We are all living in a Bose-Einstein Condensate… made of Higgs Bosons – Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor
What is this Higgs Boson? What does it tell us about the nature of the Universe? Using familiar examples, I will tell you what Bosons are, how they condense and explain the origin of mass in the Universe.
09.30-10.00 Four Candles? Or was it Fork Handles? – Marie Kinsey, Senior University Teacher, Director of Teaching and Curriculum Development, Department of Journalism
Communication is a two way process. There’s endless scope for accidental misunderstandings, miscommunication and just getting things plain wrong. What can you do to help make sure your message gets across loud and clear?
10.00-10.30 A Brief History of the Universe – Professor Carsten van de Bruck, School of Mathematics & Statistics
I will review our current understanding of the history of the universe. But more importantly I will let you know what we don’t know. Many puzzles need to be solved before we have a full understanding of how we got here.
10.30-11.00 Science, Art and Human Rights – Professor Aurora Plomer, Professor of Law and Bioethics, School of Law
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” I will talk about what the drafters meant then and what the right means now.
11.00-12.00 Seeing the World – a talk for primary school children – Professor David Mowbray, Department of Physics & Astronomy
The talk will look at some of the properties of light. It will cover how we see things in the world around us and the uses of light. Colours will also be investigated. There are a number of demonstrations which the children help with.
12.00-12.30 Birds, Poetry and Music – Professor Rachel Falconer, Professor of English Literature, University of Lausanne
This talk provides an introduction to contemporary nature writing, with a focus on poetry written about birds. It touches on the long history of poets’ fascination with birds, explores some of the links of this tradition with music about birds, and presents a detailed look at three short poems by contemporary British poets.
12.30-13.00 The Human Body: an Anatomist’s View – Professor Alistair Warren, Professor of Biomedical Science, Director of Learning & Teaching, Faculty of Science
Art, science, medicine, literature and ethics. All of these subjects and many others have their own perspectives on Anatomy. These have changed dramatically over the years; I aim to give a personal view of what it means to be an Anatomist in the 21st century.
13.00-13.30 Is Anybody Out There? Intelligent Life in the Galaxy – Dr Susan Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Particle Physics & Astrophysics
Are there other intelligent technological species out there, or are humans rare (or even unique)? I will examine a number of arguments that technological civilisations are rare.
13.30-14.00 Prejudice and Self-Knowledge – Professor Jenny Saul, Professor of Philosophy, Head of Philosophy Department
Psychologists have shown that the overwhelming majority of people harbour unconscious race, sex and other biases. In this talk I explore how this threatens our knowledge both of ourselves and of many other things.
14.00-14.30 Sources – Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy, Lecturer in Law, Café Scientifique Organiser
In this lecture I want to discuss the tension between traditional and modern sources of law. This is a big point of debate in international law in the context of devising new regimes for the protection of our intellectual resource and heritage. In the 21st century where intellectual property is central to economic and social growth and prosperity, this arena of contestation has an impact on our everyday experience of music, books, dance, medicine, sculpture, health, etc. Culture and identity are being shaped through these battles for supremacy. In an effort to look inwardly at the notion of sources, and why it is important to us, I venture into sources and truth, probing the subjective and objective how this is viewed in Indian philosophy. Chamu is an international lawyer with special interests in intellectual property, a keen student of Vedantic Hinduism and enthusiast for all forms of enquiry including the scientific.
14.30-15.00 Living Matter – Professor Ramin Golestanian, Professor of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics, Oxford University
The large and important and very much discussed question is: How can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?’. This sentence, which was written by Erwin Schroedinger on the 1st page of chapter 1 of his visionary 1944 book, What is Life?, describes a notion that is still as illusive today as it was back then. I will highlight some of the marvellous and complex physical properties of living systems, and try to put them in context using ideas from physics and chemistry.
15.00-15.30 Darwin and Sexual Selection – Professor Tim Birkhead, Professor of Zoology, Department of Animal & Plant Sciences
The male Argentine Lake Duck has the most extraordinary genitalia of any bird. The Harlequin Duck by comparison is extremely modestly endowed. Why should such differences exist? After all a phallus is a phallus, and on on the face of it, all serve the same purpose, so why such extraordinary variation? This type of question has intrigued and perplexed biologists and non-biologists alike for centuries. The answer was a long time coming. Not until the revolution in evolutionary ideas, and a century after Darwin, was the truth revealed.
15.30-16.00 Studying the Muse: The Psychology of Creative Inspiration – Dr Kamal Birdi, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Psychology, Institute of Work Psychology
Have you ever wondered where great ideas come from? In this lecture, we’ll look at different psychological perspectives on answering this question, from experiments on romantic impulses to creating machines that make up stories!
16.00-17.00 Catalytic clothing – Professor Tony Ryan OBE & Professor Helen Storey MBE
The speakers will be wearing the world’s first air-purifying jeans, embedded with the technology that we hope will be applied in the laundry process so you too can purify our air. Catalytic Clothing explores the potential for clothing and textiles to purify the air we breathe. Artist and designer Helen Storey (London College of Fashion) and chemist Tony Ryan (University of Sheffield) have been working together to explore how nanotechnology can eliminate harmful pollutants that cause health problems and contribute to climate change. We will explore how nanotechnology can be used to solve an everyday problem. It has been seen by millions of people, and there is a great demand. Of course there are still technical problems to solve, but the the biggest problem in getting it to market is getting past the marketeers. This is a truly altruistic product – but to make it happen might need a new business model.
Uncertainty – physics, ethics and politics
Posted by cathannabel in Science, Second World War, Theatre on March 11, 2012
Once you start thinking about labyrinths they crop up everywhere. Just recently the context was crime fiction, particularly of the noir variety (to be another blog, soon). The other night, it was memory, memories of a specific encounter, that between Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his former protege Werner Heisenberg, in September (or was it October?) 1941. As the protagonists, aided and challenged by Bohr’s wife, Margrethe, try to ‘follow the threads right back to the beginning of the maze’ (p.56), the answers they seek elude them as soon as they seem to be within reach. Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, just ended at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield (part of a season of his work), entwines physics, philosophy and politics (and is the only evening at the theatre I can recall when interval chat in the bar concerned semiconductor-based quantum optical memories).
The play starts with a question – why did Heisenberg visit Bohr in Copenhagen in 1941 – and the possible answers put forward by all three protagonists are diverse and contradictory, but not mutually exclusive (complementarity theory at work). Did H, then working in Nazi Germany, want to recruit B to help with their atomic weapons programme? To pump him for information about either the science or the progress being made by British and American scientists working in the field? To warn or offer him some sort of protection from Nazi racial policies? To seek absolution and forgiveness? Perhaps all of the above. But as they re-run and redraft the encounter, the moral certainties become muddied, and clear again, repeatedly.
The play has been criticised for leaving us with these questions unanswered. For some, there’s no ambiguity at all – Heisenberg was a German patriot, who supported Hitler’s war aims, and his nuclear programme. Frayn’s human and conflicted portrayal is therefore a form of revisionism. I didn’t read it like that. The play allows Heisenberg to present a variety of self-justifications – his patriotism, arising out of the humiliation and deprivation that followed the first war, the fact that he did not tell Albert Speer how a bomb could have been made, the fact that he ‘never managed to contribute to the death of one single solitary person’. Unlike Bohr, who did make some contribution to the Allied nuclear programme, and thus played a ‘small but helpful part in the deaths of a hundred thousand people’ (p.91) at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, that Heisenberg presents those self-justifications, or allows them to be presented by the generous-spirited Bohr, does not mean that the audience accepts them, any more than we accept Heisenberg’s equation of the ‘impossibly difficult situation’ faced by Bohr with his own (p.21).
When Heisenberg speaks of the hardships and devastations visited on his country after the first war, we surely cannot help but think of the hardships and devastation currently being visited by his country on occupied Europe. When he ducks the occasional challenges about the expulsion of Jewish scientists, about the deaths of fellow-scientist Goudsmit’s parents in Auschwitz (‘He thought I should have done something to save them. I don’t know what. So many hands stretching up from the darkness for a lifeline, and no lifeline that could ever reach them’), about the possibility of resistance (‘You think I should have joined the plot against Hitler and got myself hanged like the others. …What would it have achieved?’) do we let him off the hook? Hardly. And nor do Bohr and Margrethe.
The only possible claim for absolution would rest in the suggestion that Heisenberg chose not to consider doing a particular calculation knowing that it would have shown the possibility of using fission to create a weapon. Everything we are told about Heisenberg’s character seems to make this unlikely. David Lindley, in his fascinating book Uncertainty, concludes that Heisenberg was ‘not the man to do practical nuclear physics or engineering’, and had genuinely never figured out how a bomb would work. He says that ‘this failure transmuted into a story that the Germans, meaning in particular Heisenberg, had turned away from the moral repugnance of building atomic weapons, or had even deliberately misled their political superiors about the feasibility of doing so. Heisenberg never exactly said this. He never exactly denied it’ (pp. 221-2). That he was prepared to allow this suggestion to remain in the air, perhaps even in preference to the suggestion of a scientific failure, scarcely redeems him. Similarly, when the possibility occurs to Bohr that Heisenberg had directly or indirectly enabled his own escape from Denmark, and those of thousands of Danish Jews – Heisenberg doesn’t confirm or deny this, not exactly. He says ‘Nothing to do with me, by that time. I regret to say’, but has earlier claimed Duckwitz from the German Embassy, the man who forewarned the Resistance of the timing for the SS roundup, and reported the entire patrol boat squadron unseaworthy on the night of the escape, as one of ‘his’ men. Strangely, Heisenberg (in the play) credits Duckwitz with having persuaded the Swedish government to accept the refugees, whereas other sources claim that it was Bohr himself who did so, delaying his own departure from Sweden to the US until he had won that concession. Uncertainty piled upon uncertainty. In the end, Frayn trusts the audience to draw its own moral conclusions.
From an arts & humanities viewpoint, we tend to see science as a realm of certainties, of clarity and precision. But, to quote a physicist friend, science is not an exact science. However, what Heisenberg means by uncertainty is not the fuzzy thing that I might mean by it, even though one of the words he used – Unscharf – does mean blurredness or fuzziness. It’s about the limitations of measurements – the way in which precision in the measurement of one variable implies a reduced precision in measurement of the related variable, but ‘this ratio, the uncertainty relationship, is itself precisely formulable’ (Frayn, p.98). In relation to human memories and motivations, obviously, there isn’t a precise ratio. However, the basic principles that the observer changes the thing observed, that the act of observation determines what is and isn’t observed, lend themselves readily to wider application, and the uncertainty of thoughts is ‘a systematic limitation which cannot even in theory be circumvented’ (Frayn, 99). Heisenberg and Einstein clashed bitterly over uncertainty – the former insisted that we could not construct ‘an absolute, God’s eye view into the inside of an item’ but merely observe its behaviour, in various ways, and infer what we could from that, whilst the latter maintained that whilst observers might disagree, ‘events retain a distinct and unarguable physicality’ such that a consensus could be arrived at between apparently conflicting accounts and an underlying objectivity persists. (Lindley, 132). Bohr brought a particular perspective to this ‘inexactness’ – complementarity, the mixing of incommensurable concepts, which have necessary but contradictory roles to play – ‘an unavoidable disharmony’ (Lindley 148).
Bohr and Heisenberg are incommensurable concepts themselves – Heisenberg who skis at speed down the slope, caring only that he gets there, that it works, never caring ‘what got destroyed on the way’, whilst Bohr does ‘seventeen drafts of every slalom’ (pp 24-5). Bohr revels in the contradictions, whilst Heisenberg lives and breathes paradox and contradiction but ‘can no more see the beauty of them then the fish can see the beauty of the water’ (pp 65-6).
It’s often said that for evil to triumph all that is required is for good men to do nothing. In this case, just possibly, evil was thwarted by inaction rather than action. Had Bohr argued the science with Heisenberg in 1941, the latter might have realised the crucial calculation that would enable the bomb to be built in time for Hitler to use it. Margrethe suggests that this was ‘the last and greatest act of friendship’, to leave Heisenberg misunderstood. In the Lyceum production, as the final redraft takes place, and this time Bohr doesn’t walk away, but asks him why he is so confident that building a bomb would be ‘reassuringly difficult’, in the background we hear a low booming sound, increasing in volume as Heisenberg stops and says ‘Hold on’ and ‘a very different and very terrible new world begins to take shape’ (p.89).
The Lyceum production was wonderfully performed by Henry Goodman, Geoffrey Streatfeild and Barbara Flynn, and, as Jonathan Brown said in the Independent, ‘the sheer intelligence of the drama and its subject matter is a thing of beauty’ (9/3/12). It makes demands on its audience, it challenges, but it’s also moving and haunting, and terribly hard to forget.
If I’ve misrepresented science in any of the above, I humbly beg its forgiveness.
Michael Frayn, Copenhagen (London: Methuen, 2003)
David C Cassidy, ‘A Historical Perspective on Copenhagen’, http://web.gc.cuny.edu/ashp/nml/copenhagen/Cassidy.htm
David Lindley, Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science (NY: Doubleday, 2007)