FHI Centenary Group
Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Centennial Project
FHI Centenary Group
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Eugene Paul (Jenő Pal) Wigner and the Berlin research network

Speaker: Dr. Arianna Borrelli (Bergische Universitšt Wuppertal)

Jenő Pal Wigner was born in Budapest in 1902 to a well-to-do Jewish family. In 1921, he went to study in Berlin and remained there until the early 1930s when, together with his boyhood friend, John von Neumann, he left Europe for good, becoming “Eugene Paul” and settling down in Princeton, his home for the rest of his life.

As I shall endeavor to show, the time spent in Berlin was decisive for shaping Wigner's life, career and research style, leading him first to the risky choice of physics as a profession, then offering him a chance to fulfill his dream and become a research physicist. This was facilitated by the open Berlin network of academic life, in which Wigner partook immediately after his arrival in the city: the colloquium of the German Physical Society, where he could meet the great scientists of his time; the Technische Hochschule, where he befriended talented fellow Hungarians such as Leo Szilard; the University of Berlin, where he eventually became assistant; and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Dahlem, both Fritz Haber's own institute and the newly founded KWI for Fiber Chemistry, at which Wigner worked with Michael Polanyi, Hermann Mark, and Karl Weissenberg. It was there and then that Wigner began exploiting what he later called “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences,” and made his first “discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles,” as the 1963 Nobel citation had it.

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