Nobel Prize in Physics Recipient. Werner Heisenberg received world-wide acclaim as a German physicist, who was a co-founder of the quantum mechanics, introduced the uncertainly principle and received the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics. He made important contributions to the research of the atomic nucleus, hydrodynamics of turbulent flows, ferromagnetic, cosmic rays and subatomic particles. Born the youngest of two sons, Werner Karl Heisenberg's father was a Professor of the Middle and Modern Greek languages at the University of Munich. Although his formal education was interrupted during World War I, he did independent studies excelling in mathematics, physics, religion and for relaxation, played chess for hours, studied classical piano and read. After World War I, he became very involved with a youth group, “The Pathfinders,” becoming a group leader as a teenager; "The Pathfinders" eventually became a Hitler Youth group. He gained a long-time friend from a fellow student, Wolfgang Pauli. He continued his studies of physics at the University of Munich, under several renowned professors including pioneer atomic scientist, Arnold Sommerfeld . During the winter of 1922 to 1923, he studied at the University of Gottingen with Max Born, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1954, and after earning his Doctorate Degree from the University of Munich, he returned to the University of Gottingen and became Born's assistant. In 1924 he gained venia legendi status doing postdoctoral research and lecturing. From 1924 until the summer of 1925, he held a research position using a Rockefeller Grant, the 1922 Nobel Prize recipient, Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was first introduced to Albert Einstein. In 1926 he, Bohr, and Pascual Jordan published a paper on “Martix Mechanics.” Returning to Denmark, he was appointed in 1926 the Theoretical Physics Lecturer at the University of Copenhagen under Bohr. In 1927 he was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Leipzig in Germany; at the age of 25 years old, he became, with that appointment, the youngest university professor. He is perhaps best known for the “Uncertainty Principle,” discovered in 1927, which states “that determining the position and momentum of a particle necessarily contains errors the product of which cannot be less than the quantum constant ℏ.” and published “The Physical Principles of Quantum Theory” in 1928. In 1929 he went on a lecture tour to the United States, Japan, and India. While traveling in the United States, he was offered a position at the University of Michigan, but did not take it. In 1932 he wrote a three-part paper which describes the modern picture of the nucleus of an atom. In 1937 he married Elisabeth Schumacher, a classical musician, and the next year, they had twins, the first of seven children. Although his Nobel biography does not mention it, he met much hardship during World War II with many of his colleagues being Jewish and the Nazi Party SS publishing newspaper articles calling him the “ Ossietzky of physics” and a “White Jew.” With the Nazi Party controlling scientific funding, along with promotions and placements, he was overlooked for the replacement upon Summerfield's retirement. Although he never would leave Germany for the many offers to universities in the United States and elsewhere, he was not pleased with Germany's political environment. In 1943 Heisenberg became director of the German nuclear weapons project, the “Uranverein Club,” which was organized in 1939. After the war, according to several sources, he and his colleagues never were interested in building a nuclear weapon, thus not truly supporting the Nazi Party's goals. In 1941 he was appointed Professor of Physics at the University of Berlin and by June of 1942, Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. At the end of World War II, he was taken to Farm Hall in England, with nine other German scientists, as part of the Manhattan Project's Alsos Mission for interrogation on the subject of nuclear research. He was surprised at the power of the atomic bomb after one was actually dropped. By January of 1946 he resumed the Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, renaming the facility in 1948 the “Max Planck Institute for Physics, and relocating the facility from Berlin to Munich in 1958. He retired as director in 1970. Heisenberg was instrumental in Germany’s participation in the creation of the European Council for Nuclear Research. He was instrumental in planning the first West German nuclear reactor at Karlsruhe, and the research reactor in Munich in 1957. Publishing a total of five books, he wrote “Physics and Philosophy” in 1962 and “Physics and Beyond” in 1971. His son Jochen Heisenberg is a German-born nuclear physicist in the United States, and as of 2020, a Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of New Hampshire. In 1980 his wife published “The Political Life of an Apolitical Person,” stating he was a scientist first and being a politician was near the bottom of his life's goals. Journalist Thomas Power's 1993 book, “Heienberg's War” argues with evidence, that Heisenberg intentionally destroyed the German nuclear atomic bomb project while being the director of the project. An adaption of the book became the award-winning play, "Copenhagen," by the British playwright Michael Frayn. Heisenberg died of kidney cancer.
Bio by: Linda Davis
Elisabeth Schumacher Heisenberg
1914–1998 (m. 1936)