Hans Bethe (1906 - 2005)

Hans Bethe was born on July 2, 1906, in Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine, Germany. He attended the Gymnasium in Frankfurt from 1915 to 1924, then studied at the University of Frankfurt for two years and at the University of Munich for two-and-a-half years before receiving his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Munich in 1928 with Professor Arnold Sommerfeld.

An instructor in physics for one semester apiece at Frankfurt and at Stuttgart, Bethe then was headquartered from 1929 to 1933 at the University of Munich, where he became Privatdozent in May 1930. After losing his job at the University of Tubingen when the Nazis began their rise to power, Bethe, whose mother was Jewish, fled Germany in 1933 and eventually settled in the United States, where he began a post as professor of physics at Cornell University in 1935. It was there that Bethe first became interested in investigating the source of solar energy, and came upon the process of fusion. He became known as one of the leading theoretical physicists of his generation, and along with others like Stanley Livingston, Robert Wilson and Robert Backer, put Cornell on the world physics map.

His work in the area of fusion eventually led him to Los Alamos, where he served as the chief of the theoretical division for the Atomic Bomb Project. His main work is concerned with the theory of atomic nuclei and, together with Peierls, developed a theory of the deuteron in 1934, which he extended in 1949. He resolved some theory of nuclear reactions, predicting many reaction cross sections. In connection with this work, he developed Bohr's theory of the compound nucleus in a more quantitative fashion.

At the end of the Second World War, Bethe worked, along with Edward Teller, on the development of the hydrogen bomb. He was a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee from 1956 - 1964, and in 1958 headed a presidential study of nuclear disarmament. He helped to negotiate the 1963 partial test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, and acted as an informal advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.

In 1967 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. In his later years, Bethe became a passionate advocate against the international development of defensive nuclear systems. He retired from Cornell as a professor emeritus in 1975. He died on March 6, 2005 in Ithaca, New York.