Rudolf Peierls

Rudolf Peierls

Infobox Scientist
box_width = 300px
name = Rudolf Peierls

image_size = 200px
caption = Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls (1907-1995)
birth_date = June 5 1907, Berlin
birth_place = Berlin, Germany
death_date = September 19, 1995
death_place = Oxford,UK
residence = United Kingdom
citizenship = German (pre 1940)
British (post 1940)
nationality =
ethnicity = German-Jewish
fields = Physicist
workplaces = University of Birmingham
Oxford University
University of Washington
Manhattan project
alma_mater = University of Berlin
University of Munich
University of Leipzig
University of Manchester
Cambridge University
doctoral_advisor = Werner Heisenberg
academic_advisors = Arnold Sommerfeld
doctoral_students = Fred Hoyle
Melvin Preston
Edwin Ernest Salpeter
Walter Marshall
notable_students =
known_for = Frisch-Peierls memorandum
Peierls bracket
Peierls Stress
Coining the term 'umklapp process'
Bohr-Peierls-Placzek relation
Charge-density wave theory
Peierls-Hubbard model
author_abbrev_bot =
author_abbrev_zoo =
influences =
influenced =
awards = Royal Medal (1959)
Lorentz Medal (1962)
Max Planck Medal (1963)
Enrico Fermi Award (1980)
Matteucci Medal (1982)
Copley Medal (1986)
religion =

footnotes =

Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, (June 5 1907, Berlin – September 19 1995, Oxford), was a German-born British physicist. Rudolph Peierls had a major role in Britain's nuclear program, but he also had a role in many modem sciences. His impact on physics can probably be best described by his obituary in Physics Today: "Rudolph Peierls...a major player in the drama of the irruption of nuclear physics into world affairs..."Edwards, Sam. "Rudolph E. Peierls". Physics Today. February 1996. January 27, 2004. . 74, 75] .

Early years

The son of assimilated Jewish parents, he assisted Egon Orowan in understanding the force required to move a dislocation which would be expanded on by Frank Nabarro and called the Peierls-Nabarro force. In 1929, he studied solid-state physics in Zurich under the tutelage of Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli. His early work on quantum physics led to the theory of positive carriers to explain the thermal and electrical conductivity behaviors of semiconductors. He was a pioneer of the concept of "holes" in semiconductors. [1. R.E. Peierls, "Zur Theorie der galvanomagnetischen Effekte", 1929. 2. R.E. Peierls, "Zur Theorie des Hall Effekts", 1929. The English translation of these 2 papers can be found in "Selected Scientific Papers of Sir Rudolf Peierls", edited by R H Dalitz & Sir Rudolf Peierls, World Scientific, 1997.] He actually established "zones" before Leon Brillouin despite Leon's name being currently attached to the idea and applied it to phonons. Doing this, he discovered the Boltzmann equations for phonons and the Umklapp process. Physics Today states "His many papers on electrons in metals have now passed so deeply into the literature that it is hard to identify his contribution to conductivity in magnetic fields and to the concept of a hole in the theory of electrons in solids."

Leading up to World War II

He was studying on a Rockefeller Scholarship at Cambridge University when Adolf Hitler came to power in his native Germany. Granted leave to remain in Britain, he worked in Manchester under a fund set up for refugees, with Hans Bethe on photodisintegration and the statistical mechanics of alloys when asked by James Chadwick. Their results still serve as the basis for mean-field theories of structural phase changes in complete alloys. Moving back to Cambridge, he worked with P.G.L. Kapur at Mond Laboratory on superconductivity and liquid helium. The group derived the dispersion formula for nuclear reactions originally given in perturbation theory by Gregory Breit and Eugene Wigner, but now included generalizing conditions. This is now known as the Kapur-Peierls derivation. In 1937, he became Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England.

World War II

In 1939, he started working on atomic research with Otto Robert Frisch and James Chadwick. Ironically, both Peierls and Frisch were excluded from working on radar (then known as RDF) as it was considered too secret for scientists with foreign backgrounds.

Frisch-Peierls memorandum

In March 1940, he co-authored the Frisch-Peierls memorandum with Frisch. This short paper was the first to set out how one could construct an atomic bomb from a small amount of fissionable uranium-235. They calculated that about 1 kg would be needed. [Sherrow, Victoria. The Making of the Atom Bomb. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2000. 24] Until then it had been assumed that such a bomb would require many tons of uranium, and consequently was impractical to build and use. The paper was pivotal in igniting the interest of first the British and later the American authorities in atomic weapons. In 1941 its findings made their way to the United States through the report of the MAUD Committee, an important trigger in the establishment of the Manhattan Project and the subsequent development of the atomic bomb. He was also responsible for the recruitment of his compatriot Klaus Fuchs to the British project, an action which was to result in Peierls falling under suspicion when Fuchs was exposed as a Soviet spy in 1950. In 1995, "The Spectator" garnered outrage from his family when they alleged Rudolph Peierls was a spy codenamed "perls" for the Soviet Union. [Durr, Matin. "New spy claims meet firm denial". Physics web. July 1, 1999. January 27, 2004. .]

Manhattan project

Following the signature of the Quebec Agreement in August, 1943, Peierls joined the Manhattan Project in the United States, initially in New York and later at the Los Alamos Laboratory, where he played an important role in the development of the atomic bomb. Notably, when the materials were shipped to build the first nuclear bomb at Los Alamos, Rudolph Peierls courageously assembled the bomb by hand. [Cohen, Daniel. The Manhattan Project. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century Books, 1999. 69]


After the war, Peierls reassumed his position in the physics department at the University of Birmingham where he worked until 1963 before joining the University of Oxford. At Birmingham he worked on nuclear forces, scattering, quantum field theories, collective motion in nuclei, transport theory, and statistical mechanics. Also while at Birmingham, he worked as a consultant to the British atomic programme at Harwell. He was knighted in 1968, and retired from Oxford in 1974. He wrote several books including "Quantum Theory of Solids", "The Laws of Nature" (1955), "Surprises in Theoretical Physics" (1979), "More Surprises in Theoretical Physics" (1991) and an autobiography, "Bird of Passage" (1985). Concerned with the nuclear weapons he had helped to unleash, he worked on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was President of the Atomic Scientists' Association in the UK, and was a major player in the Pugwash movement.


He was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1962. In 1980 he received the Enrico Fermi Award from the US Government for exceptional contribution to the science of atomic energy. [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008]


On 2 October 2004, the building housing the sub-department of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford was formally named the "Sir Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics".


External links

* " [ Selected Scientific Papers of Sir Rudolf Peierls] ", edited by R H Dalitz & Sir Rudolf Peierls, World Scientific Series in 20th Century Physics, Volume 19, 1997.
* " [ Sir Rudolf Peierls: Selected Private and Scientific Correspondence Volume 1] ", by Sabine Lee (University of Birmingham, UK).
* [ Pictures] in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
* [,+Rudolf Annotated bibliography for Rudolf Peierls from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues]
* [,%20June%2012,%201945.pdf Rudolph Peierls own biographical notes from Los Alamos National Laboratory as a pdf]

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