Niels Bohr and the Manhattan Project

Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein
Paul Ehrenfest / Getty Images

Danish physicist, Niels Bohr won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics in recognition of his work on the structure of atoms and quantum mechanics.

He was part of the group of scientists that invented the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. He worked on the Manhattan Project under the assumed name of Nicholas Baker for security reasons.

Model of Atomic Structure

Niels Bohr published his model of atomic structure in 1913. His theory was the first to present:

  • that electrons traveled in orbits around the atom's nucleus
  • that the chemical properties of the element was largely determined by the number of electrons in the outer orbits
  • that an electron could drop from a higher-energy orbit to a lower one, emitting a photon (light quantum) of discrete energy

Niels Bohr model of atomic structure became the basis for all future quantum theories.

Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr

In 1941, German scientist Werner Heisenberg made a secret and dangerous trip to Denmark to visit his former mentor, physicist Niels Bohr. The two friends had once worked together to split the atom until World War II divided them. Werner Heisenberg worked on a German project to develop atomic weapons, while Niels Bohr worked on the Manhattan Project to create the first atomic bomb.

Biography 1885 - 1962

Niels Bohr was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on October 7, 1885. His father was Christian Bohr, Professor of Physiology at Copenhagen University, and his mother was Ellen Bohr.

Niels Bohr Education

In 1903, he entered Copenhagen University to study physics. He received his Master's degree in Physics in 1909 and his Doctor's degree in 1911. While still a student he was awarded a gold medal from the Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, for his "experimental and theoretical investigation of the surface tension by means of oscillating fluid jets."

Professional Work & Awards

As a post-doctoral student, Niels Bohr worked under J. J. Thomson at Trinity College, Cambridge and studied under Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester, England. Inspired by Rutherford's theories of atomic structure, Bohr published his revolutionary model of atomic structure in 1913.

In 1916, Niels Bohr became a professor of physics at the University of Copenhagen. In 1920, he was named director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University. In 1922, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics ​for recognition of his work on the structure of atoms and quantum mechanics. In 1926, Bohr became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and received the Royal Society Copley Medal in 1938.

The Manhattan Project

During World War II, Niels Bohr fled Copenhagen to escape Nazis prosecution under Hitler. He traveled to Los Alamos, New Mexico to work as a consultant for the Manhattan Project.

After the war, he returned to Denmark. He became an advocate for the peaceful use of nuclear power.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "Niels Bohr and the Manhattan Project." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). Niels Bohr and the Manhattan Project. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Niels Bohr and the Manhattan Project." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 5, 2023).