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Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr Photo

Niels Henrik David Bohr was the born on 7th October 1885 in Copenhagen to Ellennée Adler and Christian Bohr. His parents provided the ideal upbringing for a future genius of his standing since Christian Bohr was a Professor of Physiology at Copenhagen University, and his wife Ellen too came from a distinguished family of educationists of that era. It was, in fact, Christian Bohr who ignited the passion for physics in Niels while he was still in school. This upbringing set the foundations for one of the most brilliant minds ever in the field of modern physics.

Niels Bohr is best remembered for his extensive research and contributions to the quantum theory and the structure of atoms. He graduated from the Copenhagen University in 1911 with a Doctorate in Physics, but his genius was evident well before that. While still a student, Niels submitted a groundbreaking project challenging the current theory of liquid surface tension.  With the help of oscillating fluid jets to demonstrate the measurements of liquid surface tension, Niels won the science contest organized by the Academy of Sciences.

Niels went on to challenge and improve quite a few norms and standards throughout his career. During his academic years, he took it upon himself to challenge the current theory of liquid surface tension by taking into account the viscosity of the water as well as incorporating finite amplitudes rather than infinitesimal ones. His essay won him a gold medal and was subsequently; published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1908.

Over the years, Niels became increasingly fascinated by Max Planck’s initial theory of Quantum physics which described electromagnetic energy as discrete packets called quanta. In later years, Niels would combine Planck’s theory of quanta and Ernest Rutherford’s description of the nucleus to demonstrate what happens inside an atom and paint a clear and concise picture of an atomic structure. This work would eventually earn Niels Bohr his Nobel Prize in 1922.

During the course of his career, Bohr held lectureship in physics at Copenhagen University and Victoria University in Manchester between 1913 to 1916.  In 1916, he returned to Copenhagen University as a professor of Theoretical Physics and by 1920 he was appointed the head of the Institute for Theoretical Physics. Later in life, he was appointed the president of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences. After the Nazis occupied Denmark in WWII, Niels escaped to Sweden and then got involved in the Atomic Energy Project of the United States and Great Britain during the last two years of the war. Students of Quantum Physics will forever remember Niels Bohr for his theoretical contributions to Quantum Physics by his work and his physical contribution in the form of the Institute for Theoretical Physics now renamed as Niels Bohr Institute at Copenhagen University, which Niels himself found in 1920 and headed until his death in 1962.

Liquid droplet theory

In 1930 Bohr’s theoretical work proved to be instrumental in the initial splitting of uranium atoms, thus laying the groundwork for the atomic bomb. He played a pivotal role in explaining nuclear fission and an accurate representation of an atom’s nucleus.

Atomic model

Bohr is forever immortalized in the memory of all scientist to come with the chemical element of bohrium (Bh) named after him, on the periodic table of elements. But what truly earned Bohr a place in history was his radical definition of the atomic model. He demonstrated the true nature of atoms as a small, positively charged nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons. It was Bohr who discovered that the number of electrons in the outer orbit of an element is what determines its true properties. Furthermore, he demonstrated that electrons travel in separate orbits around the nucleus.

Quantum theory

Another memorable contribution in the field of modern physics by Bohr is his concept of complementarity, which he explained in a number of essays between 1933 and 1962. According to him, an electron can be viewed either as a particle or a wave, but never both simultaneously. This theory is the basis of early quantum theory and explains how properties of an electron must be rooted in empirical measurement; stressing upon the fact that the outcome of any scientific experiment is inherently dependent upon the measuring tools used in the process.

In spite of his alliance with the United States and Great Britain for the development of Atomic Energy, Niels Bohr was the strongest and most vocal supporter of the peaceful use of atomic physics and strongly believed in solving political issues caused by the development of atomic weapons of destruction.

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