- Hans Bethe
name = Hans Bethe
July 2 1906
birth_place = Strassburg, Germany
Germany United States
death_date = death date and age|2005|3|6|1906|7|2
Ithaca, New York, USA
University of Frankfurt University of Munich
University of Tübingen Cornell University University of Manchester
Jeffrey Goldstone Roman Jackiw Freeman Dyson Robert Eugene Marshak
P. S. Epstein
prizes = nowrap|
Nobel Prize for Physics(1967)
Hans Albrecht Bethe (IPA2|/hans ˈalbʀɛçt ˈbeːtə/) (
July 2 1906– March 6, 2005) was a German-American physicist, and Nobel laureatein physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physicsand particle astrophysics. During World War II, he was head of the Theoretical Division at the secret Los Alamos laboratory developing 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 testand the " Fat Man" weapon dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. For most of his career Bethe was a professor at Cornell University
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 Einsteinin the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientistsagainst nuclear testingand the nuclear arms race. He influenced the White Houseto 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. He is one of the few scientists who can claim a major paper in his field every decade of his career, which spanned nearly sixty years. Freeman Dysoncalled Bethe the "supreme problem solver of the 20th century."
Bethe was born in Strassburg, Germany, which since 1919 has been in
France. Although his mother was Jewish, he was raised in the religion of his father, Christianity. Bethe studied physicsat JWG University, Frankfurt, and went on to earn his doctorate from the University of Munich with supervisor Arnold Sommerfeld, after which he did postdoctoral stints in Cambridgeand at Enrico Fermi's laboratory in Rome. He was influenced by Fermi's simplicity and Sommerfeld's rigor in approaching problems, and these qualities influenced his own later research.
Bethe left Germany in 1933 when the Nazis came to power and he lost his job at the
University of Tübingen, moving first to Englandwhere he held a provisory position of Lecturerfor the year 1933-1934 and in the fall of 1934, a fellowship at the University of Bristol. In England, Bethe worked with the theoretician Rudolf Peierlson a comprehensive theory of the deuteron. In 1929, Bethe made an important contribution to solid state physics and chemistry, with his formulation of the basic concepts of crystal field theory. His paper is regarded as the starting point for all serious later discussions of the topic. In 1930, he devised a formula for the energy loss of swift charged particles in matter called the Bethe formula, which is now as important as it was then.
In 1935 Bethe moved to the
United States, and joined the faculty at Cornell University, a position which he occupied for the rest of his career. During 1948-1949 he was a Visiting Professor at Columbia University. At Cornell, Bethe became known as one of the leading theoretical physicists of his generation, and along with upcoming physicists such as cyclotronpioneer Milton Stanley Livingston, and later, after the war, experimentalist Robert R. Wilsonand theoretician Robert Bacher, put Cornell on the world physics map. Together with Robert Bacherand Livingston, Bethe published a series of three articles which summarized most of what was known on the subject of nuclear physics until that time, an account that became informally known as "Bethe's Bible", and remained the standard work on the subject for many years. [cite journal | last=Bethe | first=H. | coauthors=Bacher, R | title=Nuclear Physics. A: Stationary States of Nuclei | journal=Review of Modern Physics | volume=8 | issue= | pages=82–229 | doi= 10.1103/RevModPhys.8.82| month= | year=1936 | url=http://link.aps.org/abstract/RMP/v8/p82 | accessdate=2008-02-21] [cite journal | last=Bethe | first=H. | coauthors= | title=Nuclear Physics. B: Nuclear Dynamics, Theoretical | journal=Reviews of Modern Physics | volume=9 | issue= | pages=69, 245 | doi= 10.1103/RevModPhys.9.69| month= | year=1937 | url=http://link.aps.org/abstract/RMP/v9/p69 | accessdate=2008-02-21] In this account, he also continued where others left off, filling in gaps from the older literature. From 1935-1938, he studied nuclear reactions and reaction cross sections, carbon-oxygen-nitrogen cycle, leading to his important contribution to stellar nucleosynthesis. This research was later useful to Bethe in more quantitatively developing Niels Bohr's theory of the compound nucleus.
Bethe became a
naturalized citizenof the United States in 1941. He was an honorary member of the International Academy of Science.
When the war began, Bethe wanted to contribute to the war effort. Following the advice of the
Caltechaerodynamicist Theodore von Karman, Bethe collaborated with his friend Edward Teller, then at George Washington University, on a theory of shock waves which are generated by the passage of a projectile through a gas. This work was later useful to researchers investigating missilereentry. Bethe also worked on a theory of armor penetration, which was immediately classified by the Army, making it inaccessible to Bethe, who was not an American citizen at the time.
During the summer of 1942 he served as part of a special session at the
University of California, Berkeleyat the invitation of Robert Oppenheimer, which outlined the first designs for the atomic bomb. Initially, Bethe was skeptical of the possibility of making a nuclear weapon from uranium. In the late 1930s, he wrote a theoretical paper arguing against fission, but was convinced by Teller to join the Manhattan Project. When Oppenheimer was put in charge of forming a secret weapons design laboratory, Los Alamos, he appointed Bethe Director of the Theoretical Division, a move that irked Teller, who had coveted the job for himself.
Bethe's work at Los Alamos included calculating the
critical massof uranium-235and the multiplication of nuclear fissionin an exploding atomic bomb. Along with Richard Feynman, he developed a formula for calculating the explosive yield of the bomb. After November 1943, when the laboratory had been reoriented to solve the implosion problem of the plutoniumbomb, Bethe spent much of his time studying the hydrodynamic aspects of implosion, a job which he continued into 1944. In 1945, his work concerned working out the workings of the neutroninitiator, and later on radiation propagation from an exploding atomic bomb.
During the project,
Klaus Fuchs, who was leaking nuclear secrets to the Russians, was also in Bethe's division (often doing work which had originally been assigned to Teller). Like everyone else, Bethe had no knowledge that Fuchs was a spy.
When the first implosion atomic bomb was detonated in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, at the
Trinity test, Bethe's immediate concern was for its efficient operation, and not its moral implications and is reported to have commented: "I am not a philosopher."Fact|date=February 2008
After the war, Bethe argued that a crash project for the
hydrogen bombshould not be attempted, though after President Harry Trumanannounced the beginning of such a crash project, and the outbreak of the Korean War, Bethe signed up and played a key role in the weapon's development. Though he would see the project through to its end, in Bethe's account he personally hoped that it would be impossible to create the hydrogen bomb. He would later remark in 1968 on the apparent contradiction in his stance, having first opposed the development of the weapon and later helping to create it:
As for his own role in the project, and its relation to the famous Teller-Ulam priority dispute, Bethe later said that:
In 1954, Bethe testified on behalf of Oppenheimer during the latter's high-profile security clearance hearing. Specifically, Bethe argued that Oppenheimer's stances against developing the hydrogen bomb in the late 1940s had not hindered its actual development, a topic which was seen as a key motivating factor behind the hearing. Bethe contended that the developments which led to the successful
Teller-Ulam designwere a matter of serendipity and not a question of manpower or logical development of previously existing ideas. During the hearing, Bethe and his wife also tried hard to convince Edward Telleragainst testifying. However, Teller did not agree, and his testimony played a major role in the revocation of Oppenheimer's security clearance. While Bethe and Teller had been on very good terms during the pre-war years, the conflict between them during the Manhattan Project, and especially during the Oppenheimer episode, permanently marred their relation.
In 1968, Bethe, along with IBM physicist
Richard Garwin, published an article criticising in detail the anti- ICBMdefense 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. [cite journal | last=Garwin | first=R. L. | coauthors=Bethe, H.A. | title=Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems | journal=Scientific American | volume=218 | issue=3 | pages=21–31 | doi= | month=March | year=1968 | url= | accessdate=2008-02-21] Bethe was one of the primary voices in the scientific community behind the signing of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treatyprohibiting 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 put together a committee of experts that analysed the incident, and concluded that a similar episode would not happen in any good US reactor, as the Russian reactor suffered from a fundamentally faulty design and human error also had significantly contributed to the accident. Throughout his life Bethe remained a strong advocate for electricity from nuclear energy.
In the 1980s he and other physicists opposed the
Strategic Defense Initiativemissile system conceived by the Ronald Reaganadministration. In 1995, at the age of 88, Bethe wrote an open letter calling on all scientists to "cease and desist" from working on any aspect of nuclear weapons development and manufacture. In 2004, he signed a letter along with 47 other Nobel laureates endorsing John Kerryfor President of the United States.
In 1967, Bethe was awarded the
Nobel Prize in Physics"for his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions, especially his discoveries concerning the energy production in stars". His postulate was that the source of this stellar nucleosynthesiswas thermonuclear reactions in which hydrogenis converted into helium.
Bethe was also noted for his theories on atomic properties. In the late 1940s, he provided the first way out of the infinities that plagued the explanation of the so called
Lamb shift. Although his calculation was a non-relativistic one, it was a definite starting point. This work provided the impetus for the pioneering later work done by Richard Feynman, Julian Schwingerand others which marked the beginning of modern quantum electrodynamics.
Bethe continued to do research on supernovae, neutron stars, black holes, and other problems in theoretical astrophysics into his late nineties. In doing this, he collaborated with Gerald Brown of the
State University of New York at Stony Brook. In his 80s, he wrote an important article about the solar neutrino problemin which he dealt with the conversion of electron neutrinos into muon neutrinos that was proposed to explain the discrepancy between theory and experiment. Physicist Kurt Gottfriedsays that he does not know anyone in the history of modern physics who has done work of such calibre in his 80s.
Bethe's hobbies included a passion for history and also stamp-collecting. About the latter, he wryly remarked that it was the only instance where all the countries in the world could coexist by each other's side in peace. He loved the outdoors, and was an enthusiastic mountain climber all his life. Bethe was also known for his great sense of humor, and once published a parody in 1931, "On the Quantum Theory of the Temperature of Absolute Zero" where he calculated the
fine structure constantfrom the absolute zero temperature in Celsiusunits, causing a scandal in the scientific world. [cite journal | last=Beck | first=G. | coauthors=Bethe, H.; Riezler, W. | title=Remarks on the quantum theory of the absolute zero of temperature | journal=Die Naturwissenschaften | volume=2 | pages=38–9 | doi= 10.1007/BF01496247| month= | year=1931 | url=http://www.math.tohoku.ac.jp/~kuroki/Sokal/misc/bethespoof.html | accessdate=2008-02-21] This second parody paper was intended to characterize a certain class of papers in theoretical physics of the day, which were purely speculative and based on spurious numerical arguments such as Sir Arthur Eddington's claim to have calculated the fine structure constant from fundamental quantities in an earlier paper. He has also, wrongly, been credited for allowing his name to be used in the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paperin which he did not participate; in fact, George Gamowadded Bethe's name without consulting him, and against Ralph Alpher's wishes.
Bethe died in his home in
Ithaca, New Yorkon March 6, 2005 [ http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Nobel_Laureate_Hans_Bethe_passes_away_at_age_of_98 ] . At the time of his death, he was the John Wendell Anderson Professor of Physics Emeritus at Cornell University. He also was, reaching the age of 98, the second-oldest Nobel laureate ever. Since his death, Cornell has announced that the third of five new residential colleges, each of which will be named after a distinguished former member of the Cornell faculty, will be named the Hans Bethe House. Bethe with his wife Rose, had two children, Henry and Monica.
Honours and awards
Henry Draper Medal(1947)
Max Planck medal(1955)
Eddington Medalof the Royal Astronomical Society(1961)
Enrico Fermi Award(1961)
Nobel Prize in Physics(1967)
Lomonosov Gold Medal(1989)
Bruce Medal(2001)Named after him
Asteroid 30828 Bethe
Hans Bethe Prizeof the American Physical Society
* [http://residential.alumni.cornell.edu/hansbethe.cfm Hans Bethe House] at
Bethe ansatz, a method for finding the exact solutions of certain one-dimensional quantum many-body models
*Hans Bethe Center, 322 4th St. NE, Washington, DC 20002 [ [http://livableworld.org/work/legacy/ Council for a Livable World, Our Legacy] ]
* Bernstein, Jeremy. "Hans Bethe, Prophet of Energy." New York : Basic Books, 1980. ISBN 978-0465029037.
* Bethe, Hans A. "The Road from Los Alamos." New York: American Institute of Physics, 1991. ISBN 978-0883187074.
* Streeter, E.C. "Solving the Solar Enigma: The Story of the Scientists Behind the Discovery of the Sun's Energy Source" Dimension Engineering Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1888381122.
* Bethe, H. A. [http://www.osti.gov/cgi-bin/rd_accomplishments/display_biblio.cgi?id=ACC0099&numPages=17&fp=N "Theory of High Frequency Rectification by Silicon Crystals"] ,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) Radiation Laboratory, United States Department of Energy(through predecessor agency the Atomic Energy Commission), (October 29, 1942).
*Bethe, H. A. [http://www.osti.gov/cgi-bin/rd_accomplishments/display_biblio.cgi?id=ACC0100&numPages=30&fp=N "Theoretical Estimate of Maximum Possible Nuclear Explosion"] , Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory-Schenectady, N.Y.,
United States Department of Energy(through predecessor agency the Atomic Energy Commission), (January 31, 1950).
*Bethe, H. A.; Rajaraman, R. [http://www.osti.gov/cgi-bin/rd_accomplishments/display_biblio.cgi?id=ACC0101&numPages=98&fp=N "Three-body Problem in Nuclear Matter"] ,
University of Southern California-Los Angeles, United States Department of Energy(through predecessor agency the Atomic Energy Commission), (1967).
*Bethe, H. A. [http://www.osti.gov/cgi-bin/rd_accomplishments/display_biblio.cgi?id=ACC0102&numPages=9&fp=N "Note on Inverse Bremsstrahlung in a Strong Electromagnetic Field"] ,
Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL), United States Department of Energy(through predecessor agency the Atomic Energy Commission), (September 1972).
*Bethe, H. A. [http://www.osti.gov/cgi-bin/rd_accomplishments/display_biblio.cgi?id=ACC0103&numPages=11&fp=N "Pauli Principle and Pion Scattering"] ,
Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL), United States Department of Energy(through predecessor agency the Atomic Energy Commission), (October 1972).
*Bethe, H. A. [http://www.osti.gov/cgi-bin/rd_accomplishments/display_biblio.cgi?id=ACC0104&numPages=30&fp=N "Fusion Hybrid Reactor"] ,
Sandia National Laboratories, United States Department of Energy, (August 1981).
* [http://www.osti.gov/accomplishments/bethe.html Biography and Bibliographic Resources] , from the
Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy
* [http://www.nobel.se/physics/laureates/1967/bethe-bio.html Hans Bethe] at "Nobel lectures"
* [http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/biography/BetheHans.html Hans Bethe] at "World of Science"
* [http://www.britannica.com/nobel/micro/66_66.html Hans Bethe] at "Britannica Nobel Prizes"
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?1961QJRAS...2..107. Text of the Eddington Medal award speech]
* [http://www.phys-astro.sonoma.edu/BruceMedalists/Bethe/ Bruce Medal page]
* [http://bethe.cornell.edu/index.html Three Lectures by Hans Bethe] videos on Quantum Mechanics given at Cornell University in 1999.
** from (
** [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15846332 Hans Bethe obituary] from Scientific journal Nature
** [http://www.economist.com/people/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3764700 Hans Bethe obituary] from The Economist magazine
** [http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/science/story/0,12996,1432583,00.html Hans Bethe obituary] from The Guardian Newspaper
* [http://www.worldscibooks.com/physics/5989.html Hans Bethe And His Physics]
* [http://holiker.narod.ru/five/bethe-press.html his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions, especially his discoveries concerning the energy production in stars.]
* [http://alsos.wlu.edu/qsearch.aspx?browse=people/Bethe,+Hans Annotated bibliography for Hans Bethe from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues]
* [http://www.iisc.ernet.in/~academy/resonance/Oct2005/pdf/Oct2005AiB.pdf Obituary by R. (Dougy) Rajaraman]
* [http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4503.html Oral History interview transcript with Hans Bethe 17 January 1967, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives]
* [http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4504_1.html Oral History interview transcript with Hans Bethe 27 October 1966, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives]
* [http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4505.html Oral History interview transcript with Hans Bethe 29 April 1981, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives]
* [http://osulibrary.orst.edu/specialcollections/events/1995paulingconference/video-s4-1-schweber.html Video of a talk titled "Writing the Biography of a Living Scientist: Hans Bethe," delivered by
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.