In the 1930s, Victor Weisskopf worked with leading European physicists such as Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli. His memoir recounts in simple language how quantum mechanics revolutionized physics and our understanding of matter. Weisskopf takes us to Los Alamos where he worked on the atom bomb during World War II after fleeing the Nazis, to CERN which he led in the early 1960s, and to MIT’s physics department where he taught until his retirement. Weisskopf also recounts his efforts ...
In the 1930s, Victor Weisskopf worked with leading European physicists such as Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli. His memoir recounts in simple language how quantum mechanics revolutionized physics and our understanding of matter. Weisskopf takes us to Los Alamos where he worked on the atom bomb during World War II after fleeing the Nazis, to CERN which he led in the early 1960s, and to MIT’s physics department where he taught until his retirement. Weisskopf also recounts his efforts towards nuclear disarmament and tells of his lifelong love of music and passion to understand and explain physics.
“[Weisskopf’s] memoir provides a bright tile in the mosaic that our descendants will study in seeking to understand his scientific generation... A warm and frequently witty memoir by an extraordinarily gifted thinker and caring human being.” — Timothy Ferris, The New York Times
“Weisskopf’s voice comes through clearly in the book ... a voice that has tried to infuse our century with the idealism and humanism that it so often has lacked... The Joy of Insight is much more than Weisskopf’s autobiography: It is a first-hand account of the intellectual and political forces that shaped the 20th century.” — Science
“His account of [Los Alamos], where an isolated, tightly enclosed social world contrasted with the excitement and suspense of unprecedented research and invention, is the best yet written.” — The Atlantic
“The Joy of Insight is an inspiring personal memoir by one of the most thoughtful scientists of our time... [A] stimulating book by and about a passionate physicist.” — Boston Globe
“[Weisskopf] emerges in this autobiography as a man of gentle wisdom and quiet grace, confident in the idea that physics can provide not only 'the joy of insight,' but also a model of how life should be lived.” — The Sciences
Victor Weisskopf (1908-2002), born in Vienna, Austria, joined a socialist student group while in gymnasium and started studying physics at the University of Vienna. In 1928, he went to study with Max Born in Göttingen where he received his Ph.D. in 1931. Weisskopf worked on basic quantum physics with Werner Heisenberg in Leipzig, then for a short time with Ernest Schrödinger in Berlin. In 1932, a Rockefeller Foundation grant allowed Weisskopf to join Niels Bohr in Copenhagen and Paul Dirac in Cambridge, England. In 1934-36, Weisskopf was research associate to Wolfgang Pauli in Zurich before working again with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen (April 1936 - September 1937).
Weisskopf fled the Nazis in the fall of 1937 and became an assistant professor at the University of Rochester. From 1943 to 1946 Weisskopf was deputy chairman of the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, under Hans Bethe. In 1945, he joined the MIT physics department; he was named Institute Professor in 1965, a position he held until he retired in 1974.
Weisskopf played a major role in particle physics in the US and in Europe: he was director general of CERN (Conseil Européen de Recherches Nucléaires) in Geneva (1961-65), and chaired the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel of the US Atomic Energy Commission (1967-73). A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Physical Society, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of many international organizations including French, Austrian, Danish, Bavarian, Scottish, Spanish, and Russian academies, Weisskopf received numerous awards for his work in quantum electrodynamics, in nuclear and elementary particle physics and as an advocate of nuclear disarmament, open exchanges of information among scientists of all nations, and individual freedom. He published over two hundred papers, and several books including in 1991 his autobiography, The Joy of Insight: Passions of a Physicist.