abstract-heilbron – Niels Bohr Archive

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Niels Bohr Archive > Calendar > 2013 > 100 years of the Bohr atom > Programme > abstract-heilbron


J.L. Heilbron
, emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley
“My courage is ablaze so wildly”: Niels Bohr en route to his quantum atom

Among Einstein’s reactions to Bohr’s quantum atom was amazement at the courage of the young man who put it forward. Material from the Bohr family archives soon to be published indicates the psychological source of his courage and the support system that maintained it. Of special value are the many letters to his fiancée, Margrethe Nørlund, dating from Bohr’s postdoctoral sojourn in England in 1911/12, during which he began his struggle to quantize Rutherford’s nuclear model. The new material also helps to explain why Bohr felt it desirable, and even necessary, to ground the quantum condition defining his atom in four conflicting ways. The explanation invokes considerations outside of physics and invites a deeper inquiry into Bohr’s unusual mental makeup.