Victor Weisskopf (1908-2002)

Victor Weisskopf was born in Vienna on September 19, 1908. He studied at the University of Vienna and received a doctorate in physics from the University of Gottingen in Germany in 1931. In the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Weisskopf served at several European research institutions at a time regarded as seminal in the development of nuclear physics. During this period, he studied with and was an assistant to Nobel Prize winners Neils Bohr (whom he called his "intellectual father"), Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli and Erwin Schrodinger. In 1937 he went to the United States, where he was to spend much of the rest of his working life, becoming naturalized in 1943. The following year he was invited to join the Manhattan Project which was working to produce the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he was appointed a group leader in the Theoretical Division under Hans Bethe.

In 1945, Weisskopf was among the founders of the Federation of Atomic Sciences (now known as the Federation of American Scientists), formed to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy. In the late 1940s, he was a vocal opponent of the plans of Edward Teller and others to develop the hydrogen bomb. Bethe credited Dr. Weisskopf with dissuading him from joining the project.

In 1946 he joined the staff of MIT, remaining there for 14 years until 1960, when he obtained leave of absence after being appointed one of the directorate of five to assist the director-general of the Centre Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN). The following year he became director-general himself, a post he held during a period in which CERN's aims were greatly expanded.

After leaving CERN to return to MIT in 1965, Weisskopf returned every year to Geneva to lecture summer students. At MIT he became in 1967 head of the department of physics, a post he held until 1973.

In parallel with his work at MIT Weisskopf was chairman of the high-energy physics advisory panel of the Atomic Energy Commission in the US from 1967 to 1975.

He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 21, 2002