Hans Albrecht Bethe (July 2, 1906 - March 6, 2005) was a German-American physicist, former member of the Manhattan Project, and recipient of the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on energy generation in stars.

He was born in Alsace-Lorraine, and completed his childhood and early college education in Frankfurt, Germany. He completed his PhD in Munich in 1928 under Arnold Sommerfeld, who was famous for his refinement of the Bohr model of the atom. After teaching briefly in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, and Tubingen, Bethe emigrated to England in 1933 after losing his job due to the Nazi purging of Jews from academia. After brief appointments to the Universities of Manchester and Bristol, he was offered a permanent position at Cornell University in the United States in 1935. During World War II, he briefly worked at MIT on their radar project, but soon moved to Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, where he headed the Theory Division from 1943 to 1946, working with the then young scientist Richard P. Feynman, among many others.

Bethe was most active in the field of nuclear physics, where he made his greatest contributions. In 1967, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his 1939 work on the theory of nuclear processes which power stars (Physical Review 55:103, 434; see proton-proton chain for the details). His work significantly advanced our understanding of atomic nuclei and their interactions. He also worked in the fields of solid state physics, atomic physics, and astrophysics. Most recently, he appeared as a co-author on several papers relating to the evolution of white dwarf, neutron star, and black hole binaries (e.g. Astrophysical Journal, v547, 345 in January 2001), along with several other papers in recent years on supernovae, gamma ray bursts, and neutrinos. As an aside, in 1948, he lent his name to a paper by Ralph Alpher and George Gamow on "The Origin of Chemical Elements" in the big bang known as the "Alpher-Bethe-Gamow" (alpha-beta-gamma...) theory.

In addition to his work on nuclear, atomic, and astrophysical theory, Bethe was an advocate for international arms control and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction world wide. Like many of the scientists involved with the Manhattan Project, Bethe was primarily concerned that the United States develop atomic bombs before Nazi Germany could do so, but did not wish to see them used in war. He actively opposed the development of thermonuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missile technology, as well as the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. He has been involved in the Pugwash Conferences and the Union of Concerned Scientists. On hydrogen bombs he said

If we fight a war and win it with H-bombs, what history will remember is not the ideals we were fighting for but the methods we used to accomplish them. These methods will be compared to the warfare of Genghis Khan who ruthlessly killed every last inhabitant of Persia.

Hans Bethe remained at Cornell for his entire career, and held the John Wendell Anderson (emeritus) Professorship of Physics. He is survived by his wife, Rose (nee Ewald), and children Henry and Monica.


Sources: various, notably www.nobel.se and www.fas.org. His most noteworthy scientific papers can be found in "The Selected Works of Hans A. Bethe".

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