1. Why did Max Born’s scientific discovery lead to The End of the Certain World?

    For centuries, causality had been the foundation of scientific theory. A specific event caused a predictable reaction: the trajectory of two colliding billiard balls could be determined. However, in 1926, when Born studied the collision of an electron with a particle, he theorized that the result could not be determined exactly, only probabilistically. The answer could only give the probability of a certain outcome. Born’s statistical interpretation was causality’s death knell and is a basic tenet of quantum theory. Using Born’s insights, Werner Heisenberg discovered the uncertainty principle.

  2. How did Born’s view of the universe differ from Einstein’s? Who has turned out to be correct?

    Einstein could not accept Born’s world that was ruled by probability. He felt that a grander underlying deterministic scheme would someday be uncovered – one that Isaac Newton would have been comfortable with. Einstein characterized this belief saying, “God does not play dice.” The Nobel committee supported Born’s position when they awarded him the 1954 prize for his theory. Nonetheless, the two were still debating the nature of the universe – determinism versus indeterminism – when Einstein died in 1955.

  3. Born and Einstein had a forty year friendship, as seen in the recent republication of their letters, The Born-Einstein Correspondence. What was the nature of their relationship?

    Born became aware of Einstein’s research on special relativity in 1907. Their first meeting and discussion in 1909 did not result in more than a cordial relationship. In fact, Einstein regarded Born as more of a mathematician than a physicist. When Born moved to Berlin in 1915, just after the start of the war, the two quickly became close friends. At the time, Born was extremely conflicted between his loyalty to Germany and the pacifist philosophy handed down by his father. Long talks with Einstein finally convinced Born that Germany should lose the war and arise from the ashes as a democratic and socialistic nation, eliminating the Hohenzollern dynasty and the control of the Prussian military. At the same time, Born watched Einstein put the finishing touches on the general theory of relativity. He always cited Einstein’s reliance on experiment informing theory as the process for research.

  4. Why didn’t Born receive the Nobel Prize in 1933 along with his assistant Werner Heisenberg? The two had worked together on quantum theory for more than two years when Heisenberg found the final piece of the puzzle and Born then formulated the mathematical structure of quantum mechanics.

    The chair of the Nobel physics selection committee, Karl Oseen, disliked quantum mechanics and the complicated mathematics used by Born. By honoring Heisenberg alone for his contribution, he avoided explicitly recognizing the mathematical formulation. As long as Oseen held his position, the committee would not nominate Born. Referring to their “common effort,” Heisenberg wrote Born a letter expressing his embarrassment over Born’s omission. Not only did Born formulate the final form of the theory, but much of Heisenberg’s discovery relied on principles originated by Born.

  5. For what other reasons is Born important in twentieth century physics?

    Max Born helped to shape the “Golden Age of Physics” in the 1920s. He was both a discoverer of quantum mechanics and a mentor to the young physicists who expanded the revolutionary ideas and became leaders in the field. In the fall of 1925, just as quantum mechanics was unfolding, Born made a six-month trip to the United States, lecturing across America about the new theory for the first time. By the next fall, large numbers of young American physicists, eager to take part in the scientific revolution, had beaten a path to Göttingen and Born. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the first to come, stayed for a year and finished a Ph.D. under Born. He also became one of Born’s main collaborators, part of a long line of brilliant young students like Wolfgang Pauli and Heisenberg. Born, however, found him less congenial than the others, describing him as a person who oscillated between “arrogance and a somewhat unpleasant modesty.” Many others, such as John von Neumann and Edward Teller, came from Europe to study with Born as well.

    Quantum mechanics was not Born’s only success. Early in his career, Born had asked how solids such as crystal respond to heat, and he formulated the first theoretical model of a crystal to help with the answer. This model became the basis for solid state physics, a field that involved him his entire career.

  6. How many future Nobel physicists worked under Born?

    Nine: Max Delbrück, Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg, Gerhard Herzberg, Maria Göppert-Mayer, Wolfgang Pauli, Linus Pauling, Otto Stern, and Eugene Wigner. All were with him in Göttingen, except for Stern, who had worked with Born earlier at the University of Frankfurt. Seven became American citizens, the exceptions being Pauling who was already American and Heisenberg who remained in Nazi Germany. Many worked on the Manhattan project.

  7. What was Born’s moral dilemma over the science he had helped to create?

    Born’s goal was to find truth through his research, revealing the secrets of the natural world. He was also a pacifist who reluctantly saw the need for atomic research to keep up with the presumed research of the Nazis. But he was shocked over the US bombing of Hiroshima, even more so when he learned that it was his former students – Oppenheimer, Teller, and Fermi among them – who had developed the atom bomb. He wondered about his own failure to impart the ethics of scientific research.

    After the atrocities of the Nazis and the dropping of the atom bomb, he frequently spoke out on the ethics of science, but felt he had insufficient standing in the physics community to force his point. The Nobel Prize changed that, and he lost no time in calling on physicists to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons. He was also instrumental in focusing awareness on the possible nuclear armament of West Germany, his retirement home after 1953.

  8. Born was Jewish. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, Born was dismissed from his university chair. What was his reaction and what did he do?

    On April 25, 1933, Born’s name was listed in a Göttingen newspaper along with five other Jewish professors. They had been suspended in accordance with the employment laws enacted by the Nazis a few weeks earlier. Although Born expected this action, he was devastated. Over the past twelve years, he had developed one of the world’s pre-eminent schools of physics. Nonetheless, it was clear to him that the only response was to leave Germany immediately. He, his wife Hedi, and their young son Gustav, departed on May 10, the day the student organizations had called for burning seditious literature by such authors as Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, and Thomas Mann. The Borns spent the next three months in Italy’s South Tyrol and then moved to Cambridge, England, where Born was given a three-year appointment. He finally received an offer from the University of Edinburgh, becoming one of only three exiled physicists to get a permanent position in Great Britain during the 1930s.

  9. What was Born’s relationship with the Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs?

    In the late 1930s, Fuchs was Born’s assistant in Edinburgh while he completed a second Ph.D. Born considered Fuchs a brilliant physicist. When World War II began in earnest in June 1940, the British authorities interned Fuchs along with all other resident aliens and shipped him to Canada. Born wrote to gain his release. When Fuchs returned from Canada, he was quickly offered a job with Britain’s nuclear program, a position Born warned him not to take. Fuchs was a Communist, and Born felt that helping a capitalist country to gain the bomb would be antithetical to his beliefs. In 1950, Fuchs was arrested for giving atomic secrets to the Soviets, including a full description of the plutonium bomb tested in the New Mexico desert. Neither Born nor other Jewish-German émigrés who had befriended Fuchs in Britain knew anything about his spying.

  10. What made Born a great humanitarian as well as a great scientist?

    From the beginning of the Nazis’ takeover, Born knew that younger physicists would have difficulty finding positions. He took immediate responsibility for those close to him, including Edward Teller, and was successful in placing them. Once in Cambridge, Born became the physics representative to two organizations that placed exiled scientists and spent much of his time looking for positions for them. This role was not new to him. During World War I, he had recruited young physicists to his research lab in Berlin to save them from the front lines. In the inflation years of the 1920s, he had raised funds to keep his assistants from starving. No plea went unanswered, whether for money, a position, or help in getting someone out of a desperate situation.

    After the war, Born spoke out on the dangers of nuclear weapons. He depicted science “as a decisive factor in the power politics of the states" and urged West German physicists to confront these moral issues. He collaborated with Bertrand Russell on the 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which outlined the destruction from nuclear war, and continued his advocacy well into his 80s.