von Weizsäcker, Carl Friedrich 1912-2007

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von Weizsäcker, Carl Friedrich 1912-2007


See index for CA sketch: Born June 28, 1912, in Kiel, Germany; died April 28, 2007, in Starnberg, Bavaria, Germany. Astrophysicist, educator, and author. One of the scientists who worked on developing the atom bomb for Nazi Germany, von Weizsäcker was famous for developing theories about planet formation and nuclear fission within stars. He was educated at the Universities of Berlin, Göttingen, and Copenhagen before completing a D.Phil. at the University of Leipzig in 1933. He worked there as an assistant at the Institute of Theoretical Physics for two years and was a lecturer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin before the war. Von Weizsäcker partnered with Hans Bethe in the 1930s to develop a theory about how nuclear reactions work inside stars; it is now known as the Bethe-Weizsäcker cycle. An associate professor at the University of Strasbourg during World War II, he and Werner Heisenberg operated a laboratory to research the creation of an atomic bomb. After the Allies captured the lab in 1944, however, von Weizsäcker would say that they had not actually tried to develop the bomb because he and Heisenberg had no enthusiasm for doing so for the Nazis. Critics would later say this was simply an effort to avoid prosecution after the war. It apparently worked, as von Weizsäcker was never imprisoned. He returned to teaching at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Göttingen, where he was head of the department from 1946 to 1957. During the 1940s he also built on earlier theories about planet formation to explain how they evolved from minerals and gases orbiting stars. He then taught at the University of Hamburg for twelve years and was director of the Max Planck Institute on the Preconditions of Human Life in the Modern World from 1970 to 1980. Von Weizsäcker spent much of his later life as an anti-nuclear arms protestor, working to eliminate the nuclear arsenal from Germany. Much honored for his work, he won the Max Planck Medal twice, the Goethe Prize, the Order of Merit for Sciences and Arts, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and, in 1989, the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, among other honors. He was the author of works on physics and philosophy, several of which were translated into English. Among these are The Rise of Modern Physics (1957), The Relevance of Science: Creation and Cosmogony (1964), and The Unity of Nature (1980).



Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2007, p. B6.

New York Times, May 2, 2007, p. A19; May 3, 2007, p. A2.

Times (London, England), May 3, 2007, p. 64.

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von Weizsäcker, Carl Friedrich 1912-2007

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