Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls

(1907—1995) theoretical physicist

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German-born British physicist, best known for his work on the quantum theory of solids and nuclear physics. He and Otto Frisch were the first physicists to calculate that an atom bomb could be made. He was knighted in 1968. Peierls was born in Berlin and educated at the universities of Berlin, Munich, and Leipzig. After teaching for a short period in Zürich he moved to Britain, where he first taught at Manchester; in 1937 he was appointed professor of mathematical physics at Birmingham University. While at Birmingham he was joined in 1940 by another refugee from Nazi Germany, Otto Frisch. Their calculations, based on the newly discovered phenomenon of nuclear fission led them to conclude that two or three pounds of uranium-235 would be sufficient to produce a devastating bomb. Frisch and Peierls wrote a memorandum entitled On the Construction of a Super-bomb, which they sent in March 1940 to Sir Henry Tizard. Peierls and Frisch were therefore the first scientists to demonstrate the practicality of nuclear weapons. In 1943 Peierls joined the staff of Hans Bethe at Los Alamos to work on the preparation of the bomb. In 1946 he returned to Birmingham, where he remained until 1963 working on atomic energy projects. In 1963 he moved to Oxford as Wykeham Professor of Physics, a post he held until his retirement in 1974.

From Who's Who in the Twentieth Century in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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