AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVII , No. 2, Fall 2005

 
“It troubles me that the public sees physics only as the mother of technology. No one any longer pays attention to—if I may call it—the spirit of physics, the idea of discovery, the idea of understanding. I think it’s difficult to make clear to the non-physicist the beauty of how it fits together, of how you can build a world picture, and the beauty that the laws of physics are immutable.”

Hans Albrecht Bethe (1906-2005) was born July 2, 1906, in Strasbourg, then part of Germany. He received his doctorate in theoretical physics at the University of Munich in 1928. He married Rose Ewald in 1939, a daughter of P.P. Ewald, the well known X-ray physicist.

In 1933, Bethe was dismissed by the Nazi regime from his faculty position at the University of Tübingen in Germany. He was hired by Cornell University in 1935, and remained associated with it until his death. After Pearl Harbor, Bethe joined the MIT Radiation Laboratory radar project. In 1943 he was appointed head of the theoretical division of the newly created Los Alamos Laboratory, helping to create the fission and, later, fusion bombs. However, he was dedicated to peace and a world free of nuclear armaments and often spoke and wrote on the topic. He received the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions, especially his discoveries concerning the energy production in stars." Bethe's other scientific accomplishments, mainly in the areas of nuclear and quantum physics and continuing into his old age, are too numerous to list here (there are several good biographies on the Web - see Physics Today's article Hans in War and Peace). He died on March 6, 2005.

Bethe loved history, and understood its importance in setting the record straight. He was a long-time supporter of the AIP Center for History of Physics, and one of its first Friends. Since the earliest funding appeals, Bethe signed or co-signed letters on behalf of the Center to the Friends, and continued his support through his last years. On his death, he left the Center a generous bequest.

L-R: Fermi; Bethe; Staub; Weisskopf; and unknown. Sitting: Mrs. Staub; Mrs. Segre; and unknown. On a ski break near Los Alamos, 1943.

Photos courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Segrè Collection.


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