Faust in Copenhagen

A Struggle for the Soul of Physics

By Gino Segre
Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670038589, 384pp.

Publication Date: June 14, 2007

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Description

A fascinating look at the landmark 1932 gathering of the biggest names in physics

Known by physicists as the "miracle year," 1932 saw the discovery of the neutron and the first artificially induced nuclear transmutation. However, while physicists celebrated these momentous discoveries--which presaged the era of big science and nuclear bombs--Europe was moving inexorably toward totalitarianism and war. In April of that year, about forty of the world's leading physicists--including Werner Heisenberg, Lise Meitner, and Paul Dirac--came to Niels Bohr's Copenhagen Institute for their annual informal meeting about the frontiers of physics.

Physicist Gino Segrè brings to life this historic gathering, which ended with a humorous skit based on Goethe's Faust--a skit that eerily foreshadowed events that would soon unfold. Little did the scientists know the Faustian bargains they would face in the near future. Capturing the interplay between the great scientists as well as the discoveries they discussed and debated, Segrè evokes the moment when physics--and the world--was about to lose its innocence.

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