Wigner, Eugene Paul


Wigner, Eugene Paul
▪ 1996

      Hungarian-born U.S. physicist (b. Nov. 17, 1902, Budapest, Hung.—d. Jan. 1, 1995, Princeton, N.J.), was the joint winner of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physics (with Maria Goeppert Mayer and Johannes Hans Jensen) for his insight into quantum mechanics, especially the principles governing the interaction of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Wigner determined that the nuclear force that binds neutrons and protons together is necessarily short-range and independent of any electric charge. In his work Wigner used the abstract mathematical concept of group theory to investigate problems of atomic structure. He gathered information by focusing on the symmetries, rather than the dynamics, among subatomic particles in a physical system such as an atomic nucleus. He detailed this work in the classic book Gruppentheorie und ihre Anwendung auf die Quantenmechanik der Atomspektren (1931; Group Theory, 1959). Wigner was initially trained as an engineer and earned a Ph.D. (1925) in that field from the Berlin Institute of Technology. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1930 and began working part-time at Princeton University. In 1937 he became a U.S. citizen and the next year a permanent faculty member at Princeton, where he remained until his retirement in 1971. When he perceived in 1939 that German scientists might be on the brink of achieving a nuclear chain reaction and thus the capability of developing nuclear weapons, Wigner and fellow Hungarians Leo Szilard and Edward Teller persuaded Albert Einstein to write to Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt and outline the potential threat. Einstein's historic letter was instrumental in setting up the wartime Manhattan Project, thereby launching the U.S. into the nuclear age. This prompted Wigner to interrupt his career at Princeton, beginning in 1942, to help Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago with work on the top-secret atomic bomb. There they explored the technology needed for nuclear reactors to produce plutonium for the first atomic bomb. After the war Wigner briefly served as director of research and development at the Clinton Laboratories (later Oak Ridge [Tenn.] National Laboratory). He later became a supporter of the Atoms for Peace movement. Among Wigner's other publications are Dispersion Relations and Their Connection with Causality (1964) and Symmetries and Reflections (1967). A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Atoms for Peace Award (1960), the Max Planck Medal (1961), the Einstein Award (1972), and the Order of Merit (1994), Hungary's highest award, for scientific achievement.

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▪ American physicist
Hungarian  Jenó Pál Wigner  
born Nov. 17, 1902, Budapest, Hung., Austria-Hungary
died Jan. 1, 1995, Princeton, N.J., U.S.
 Hungarian-born American physicist, joint winner, with J. Hans D. Jensen (Jensen, J. Hans D.) of West Germany and Maria Goeppert Mayer (Mayer, Maria Goeppert) of the United States, of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1963. He received the prize for his many contributions to nuclear physics, which include his formulation of the law of conservation of parity.

      Wigner studied chemical engineering and received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Technology in Berlin in 1925. After serving as a lecturer there and at the University of Göttingen, he went to the United States. Apart from two years (1936–38) as professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin, he spent his academic life at Princeton University, serving as a professor of mathematical physics from 1938 until his retirement in 1971. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1937.

      At Göttingen, Wigner formulated his law of the conservation of parity, which implies that it is impossible to distinguish left from right in fundamental physical interactions. This theory became an integral part of quantum mechanics, but in 1956 the physicists Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang showed that parity is not always conserved in weak interactions of subatomic particles. At Princeton, Wigner determined that the nuclear force that binds neutrons and protons together is necessarily short-range and independent of any electric charge. He also developed the principles involved in applying mathematical group theory to investigate the energy levels of atomic nuclei. In 1936 he worked out the theory of neutron absorption (neutron capture), which later proved useful in building nuclear reactors.

      In 1939, Wigner helped Leo Szilard persuade Albert Einstein (Einstein, Albert) to write the historic letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that set in motion the U.S. atomic-bomb project. During World War II he worked at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, where he helped Enrico Fermi (Fermi, Enrico) construct the first atomic pile. Wigner also conducted research on quantum mechanics, the theory of the rates of chemical reactions, and nuclear structure. His publications include Gruppentheorie und Ihre Anwendung auf die Quantenmechanik der Atomspektren (1931; Group Theory and Its Application to the Quantum Mechanics of Atomic Spectra), a classic text, and Symmetries and Reflections (1967).

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • WIGNER, EUGENE PAUL — (1902–1995), Nobel laureate in physics. Wigner was born in Budapest and was one of a small number of extraordinarily talented Hungarian born physicists who contributed to the transformation of Newtonian physics. Wigner obtained his doctorate from …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Wigner,Eugene Paul — Wig·ner (wĭgʹnər), Eugene Paul. 1902 1995. Hungarian born American physicist. He shared a 1963 Nobel Prize for research on the structure of the atom and its nucleus. * * * …   Universalium

  • Wigner , Eugene Paul — (1902–1995) Hungarian–American physicist Born the son of a businessman in Budapest, Hungary, Wigner was educated at the Berlin Institute of Technology, where he obtained a doctorate in engineering in 1925. After a period at Göttingen he moved to… …   Scientists

  • Wigner, Eugene (Paul) — orig. Jenó Pál Wigner (17 nov. 1902, Budapest, Hungría–1 ene. 1995, Princeton, N.J., EE.UU.). Físico estadounidense nacido en Hungría. Después de estudiar en la Universidad de Berlín, emigró a EE.UU. en 1930 y se unió al cuerpo docente de la… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Wigner, Eugene (Paul) — orig. Jenó Pál Wigner born Nov. 17, 1902, Budapest, Hung. died Jan. 1, 1995, Princeton, N.J., U.S. Hungarian born U.S. physicist. After studies at the University of Berlin, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1930 and joined the faculty of Princeton… …   Universalium

  • Wigner, Eugene Paul — ► (1902 95) Físico húngaro. Ha trabajado en la investigación nuclear. Fue premio Nobel de Física en 1963, compartido con M. Goeppert y J. Jensen, por sus contribuciones a la física nuclear …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Eugene Paul Wigner — (ungarisch Wigner Jenő Pál; * 17. November 1902 in Budapest; † 1. Januar 1995 in Princeton, New Jersey) war ein ungarisch amerikanischer Physiker und Nobelpreisträ …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Eugene Paul Wigner — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Retrato de 1963 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Eugene Paul Wigner — Eugene Wigner Eugene Wigner (à gauche) et Alvin Weinberg Eugene Paul Wigner (17 novembre 1902 1er janvier 1995) est physicien théoricien hongrois naturalisé américain, lauréat du prix Nobel de physiq …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Eugene Paul Wigner — noun United States physicist (born in Hungary) noted for his work on the structure of the atom and its nucleus (1902 1995) • Syn: ↑Wigner, ↑Eugene Wigner • Instance Hypernyms: ↑nuclear physicist …   Useful english dictionary


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