Paul Wigner

Paul Wigner

Paul Wigner was born into a Jewish family in Hungary in 1902. After a university educated in Budapest he did postgraduate studies in Berlin where he attended lectures by Albert Einstein. Over the next few years he carried out research into nuclear physics and in 1927 concluded that parity is conserved in a nuclear reaction..

Wigner emigrated to the United States in 1930 where he became professor of theoretical physics. In August, 1939, Wigner joined with two other Jewish scientists, who had fled from Nazi Germany, Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, to write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, about the developments that had been taking place in nuclear physics. They warned Roosevelt that scientists in Germany were working on the possibility of using uranium to produce nuclear weapons.

Roosevelt responded by setting up a scientific advisory committee to investigate the matter. He also had talks with the British government about ways of sabotaging the German efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

In 1942 the Manhattan Engineer Project was set up in the United States under the command of Brigadier General Leslie Groves. As well as Wigner other Allied scientists recruited to produce an atom bomb included Robert Oppenheimer, David Bohm, Rudolf Peierls, Felix Bloch, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Niels Bohr, James Chadwick, James Franck, Emilio Segre, Enrico Fermi, Klaus Fuchs and Edward Teller.

After the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Wigner returned to Princeton University. Wigner famously wrote that: "Physics is becoming so unbelievably complex that it is taking longer and longer to train a physicist. It is taking so long, in fact, to train a physicist to the place where he understands the nature of physical problems that he is already too old to solve them."

Wigner, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Maria Goeppert Mayer and Hans Jensen in 1963, remained at Princeton until 1971. Paul Wigner died in 1995.