Hans Bethe

Hans Bethe bigraphy, stories - Physicist

Hans Bethe : biography

July 2, 1906 – March 6, 2005

Hans Albrecht Bethe ( July 2, 1906 – March 6, 2005) was a German and American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis.

A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and astrophysics. During World War II, he was head of the Theoretical Division at the secret Los Alamos laboratory which developed the first atomic bombs. There he played a key role in calculating the critical mass of the weapons, and did theoretical work on the implosion method used in both the Trinity test and the "Fat Man" weapon dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. For most of his career, Bethe was a professor at Cornell University.Available at www.JamesKeckCollectedWorks.org are the class notes taken by one of his students at Cornell from the graduate courses on Nuclear Physics and on Applications of Quantum Mechanics he taught in the spring of 1947.

During the early 1950s, Bethe also played an important role in the development of the larger hydrogen bomb, though he had originally joined the project with the hope of proving it could not be made. Bethe later campaigned together with Albert Einstein in the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists against nuclear testing and the nuclear arms race. He influenced the White House to sign the ban of atmospheric nuclear tests in 1963 and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, SALT I. His scientific research never ceased even into the later years of his life and he was publishing papers well into his nineties. He is one of the few scientists who can claim a major paper in his field every decade of his career, which spanned nearly 70 years. Freeman Dyson called Bethe the "supreme problem solver of the 20th century."

Honors and awards

Bethe received numerous honors and awards in his lifetimes and afterwards.He became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1947, and that year was received the National Academy of Sciences’s Henry Draper Medal. He was awarded the Max Planck medal in 1955, the Franklin Medal in 1959, theRoyal Astronomical Society’s Eddington Medal and the United States Atomic Energy Commission’s Enrico Fermi Award in 1961, the Rumford Prize in 1963, the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967,,the National Medal of Science in 1975,, Oersted Medal in 1993, the Bruce Medal in 2001, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences by the American Philosophical Society posthumously in 2005.

Cornell named the third of five new residential colleges, each of which is named after a distinguished former member of the Cornell faculty, Hans Bethe House after him, as if the Hans Bethe Center, 322 4th St. NE, Washington, DC, home to the Council for a Livable World, where Bethe was a longtime board member, and the Bethe Center for Theoretical Physics at University of Bonn in Germany. He also has an asteroid, 30828 Bethe, that was discovered in 1990 named after him, as was the American Physical Society’s Hans Bethe Prize.

Political stances

In 1968, Bethe, along with IBM physicist Richard Garwin, published an article criticising in detail the anti-ICBM defense system proposed by the Department of Defense. The two physicists described in the article that nearly any measure taken by the US would be easily thwarted with the deployment of relatively simple decoys. Bethe was one of the primary voices in the scientific community behind the signing of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty prohibiting further atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Bethe campaigned for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. After the Chernobyl disaster, Bethe was part of a committee of experts that analysed the incident. They concluded that the Russian reactor suffered from a fundamentally faulty design and human error also had significantly contributed to the accident. "My colleagues and I established," he explained "that the Chernobyl disaster tells us about the deficiencies of the Soviet political and administrative system rather than about problems with nuclear power." Throughout his life Bethe remained a strong advocate for electricity from nuclear energy, which he described in 1977 as "a necessity, not merely an option."