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Eugene Wigner and Fundamental Symmetry Principles
"[Eugene P.] Wigner's great contribution to science, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, was his insight into the fundamental mathematics and physics of quantum mechanics. He applied and extended the mathematical theory of groups to the quantum world of the atom; specifically, he used group theory to organize the quantum energy levels of electrons in atoms in a way that is now standard. With that mathematical approach to the atom, Wigner became one of the first to apprehend the deep implications of symmetry, which has since emerged as one, if not the, key principle of 20th-century theoretical physics. …
Wigner also played a prominent role in the effort to develop the atomic bomb and, later, to harness that same force to produce energy. It was Wigner, along with fellow Hungarian expatriate Leo Szilard, who persuaded Albert Einstein in 1939 to write the now-famous letter to President Roosevelt about the potential to produce vast amounts of energy from the element uranium.
In 1942 Wigner went on leave from Princeton to join the team at the University of Chicago working on the secret project to design the reactors to produce the first plutonium for nuclear weapons. He was one of the handful of scientists who witnessed the birth of the atomic age on Dec. 2 of that year when, in a squash court underneath the west stand of Staff Field, Enrico Fermi lit the first atomic fire, a crucial step toward the completion of the atomic bomb in 1945.
In the decades following the war, Wigner was a leader in the development of nuclear energy and a vigorous advocate of stepped-up civil defense to protect the American population from a nuclear attack. …
In addition to his work on the Princeton faculty and the atomic bomb project, Wigner served from 1964 to 1965 as the director of Civil Defense Research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He retired from active status on the Princeton faculty in 1971."
- Edited excerpts from Eugene P. Wigner
Additional information about Eugene Paul Wigner and his research is available in full-text and on the Web.
Absorption of Thermal Neutrons in Uranium, DOE Technical Report, September 26, 1941
Radioactivity of the Cooling Water, DOE Technical Report, March 1, 1943
Solutions of Boltzmann`s Equation for Mono-energetic Neutrons in an Infinite Homogeneous Medium, DOE Technical Report, November 30, 1943
Recalculation of the Critical Size and Multiplication Constant of a Homogeneous UO2 - D2O Mixtures, DOE Technical Report, February 11, 1944
On the Boundary Condition Between Two Multiplying Media, DOE Technical Report, April 19, 1944
Effect of the Temperature of the Moderator on the Velocity Distribution of Neutrons with Numerical Calculations for H as Moderator, DOE Technical Report, September 14, 1944
On the Variation of Eta with Energy in the 100-1000 ev Region, DOE Technical Report, November 1, 1949
The Magnitude of the Eta Effect, DOE Technical Report, April 25, 1951
Eugene Wigner Receives his Nobel Prize, nobelprize.org (video)
Additional Web Pages:
Eugene Wigner, 1902–1995, ORNL's 20th Century Superlative, ORNL Reporter, Number 43, November 2002
Eugene Wigner, an interview with Albert Tucker
Eugene Wigner, Nuclear Engineer, by Alvin M. Weinberg, Physics Today, October 2002
Eugene Paul Wigner, by Frederick Seitz, Erich Vogt, and Alvin M. Weinberg
Review, Eugene Wigner and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vol.
25, Nos. 3 and 4, 1992
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