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Peierls, Sir Rudolf Ernst


PEIERLS, SIR RUDOLF ERNST (1907–1995), British physicist. Peierls, who was born in Berlin, held an appointment at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich from 1929 to 1932. In 1933 he went to England and pursued research at Manchester University for four years. He became professor of applied mathematics at Birmingham University and worked on the atomic energy project there from 1940 to 1943. In the latter year he went to the U.S. and was for three years one of the leading scientists on the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos Laboratory. In 1946 he returned to Birmingham, where he remained until 1963, when he was appointed professor of physics at Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1945 and was knighted in 1968.

From the outset of his academic life, Peierls was deeply involved in the development of atomic energy. At Birmingham at the outbreak of World War ii, he and Otto *Frisch considered the theoretical questions involved in chain reaction and concluded that the energy liberated by a five-kilogram bomb would be equivalent to several thousand tons of dynamite. In a short paper, which also outlined a possible thermal diffusion method for the separation of uranium 235 and suggested how the bomb could be detonated, they were the first in the world to enunciate the practical possibility of the atom bomb with scientific precision. The Peierls-Frisch paper was one of the factors that influenced the British government to begin an atomic energy program prior to the Manhattan Project. Peierls' publications included: Quantum Theory of Solids (1955), Laws of Nature (1955), Surprises in Theoretical Physics (1979), and the autobiographical Bird of Passage (1985).

Sir Rudolph's son, ronald frank peierls (1935 –), was also a physicist. Born in Manchester, he went to the United States and had posts at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, nj, and Cornell University before being appointed to the physics division at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island, ny, in 1966. His main interest was the nature and properties of interactions between elementary particles.

[Julian Louis Meltzer]

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