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Oral History Interview — Dr. Carl Friedrich Weizsäcker


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Interview with Dr. Carl Friedrich Weizsäcker
By Kristie Macrakis

January 28, 1986

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Carl Weizsäcker; January 28, 1986

ABSTRACT: The new physics institute, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Physik (of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft), established in 1935 partly with Rockefeller Foundation money. Weizsäcker joins in 1936; Peter Debye as first director; comparison to other physics institutes (Niels Bohr Institute). Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft's place in German science in comparison with the Universities; interdisciplinary contacts; good German science (i.e., Werner Siemens) important for industry. Foreign support of German science in the 1930s, and the isolation of German science later on. Views on National Socialism in the 1930s; dealings with industrial crisis and unemployment. The Wehrmacht's takeover of Fritz Haber's Institut, and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellshaft's reaction (Otto Hahn's letter to Max Planck, 1933). Germany's place in international physics prior to the late 1930s. Views on uranium research, and Hahn's speech on fission at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in 1939. The Heeres-Waffenamts (Weapons Ordnance Department) takeover of the Institut, and subsequent departure of Debye for the United States (Ernst Telschow); the "Uranium Society." The atomic bomb, the building, the builders of it, and the ethics of the atomic bomb (the building of it, the builders, and the ethics involved are discussed at length. Weizsäcker's presidency of the Max Planck Institut für Physik; comments on teaching and other responsibilities of a university professor; comments on scientific revolutions and normal science. Discussion of philosophy of science, on becoming and on being a scientist; physics as the fundamental science. Also prominently mentioned are: Ludwig Biermann, Niels Bohr, Bosch, Adolf Butenandt, Max Delbrück, Diebner, Albert Einstein, James Franck, Samuel Goudsmit, Fritz Haber, Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Adolf Hitler, Max von Laue, Philipp Lenard, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Georg Picht, Max Planck, Schumann, Werner Siemens, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Vögler.