Monday, December 19, 2011

Scientist of the week: Neils Bohr

Once a week I am planning on highlighting the life of a great past or present scientist. Today I chose Neils Bohr. 

Quantum mechanics is sometimes seen by the general public as a weird, hard to understand, probably not even real science. Some scientists (I'm looking at you, Michio Kaku) expand on some small aspect of quantum mechanics until it's nothing more than science fiction. 

I don't mean any disrespect to current day theoretical physicists. I'm just pointing out that when it comes to theoretical physics, Neils Bohr is the man. The Bohr model of the atom is...incorrect. Even so, we still use it all the time. If you were asked to describe the structure of an atom, you would probably describe it like this:

...and you would be wrong. Not completely wrong - this model explains a great deal of physics and chemistry - but it isn't the truth. Even so, it's helpful to start explaining the basics of chemistry and the interesting things that can happen at the quantum level.

The Bohr model of the atom is arguably the most recognized of his contributions to the field, but it isn't the only one. He contributed substantially to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, helped develop the atom bomb[1], and remained a proponent for the continued use of nuclear energy.

Bohr received  a Nobel prize in Physics for his investigation into the structure of the atom. On par with that achievement, he is the first scientist of the week for the collapsed wavefunction.

[1] Maybe you, like Winston Churchill, don't think developing the atom bomb should be listed as a contribution. Speaking of Neils Bohr, he said "It seems to me Bohr ought to be confined or at any rate made to see that he is very near the edge of mortal crimes."