Mediatheque

Eugene Wigner is appointed Professor of Physics at Wisconsin University, where, he works with the Russian-born American physicist Gregory Breit publishing a number of papers on the mechanisms of nuclear reactions.

Eugene Wigner moves to Austria with his family for most of 1919 to escape the Béla Kun communist regime. The communists take control in Hungary in March 1919 and are overthrown in November 1919. Wirgner’s family can now come back to Budapest.

Eugene Wigner returns home to Budapest to help his father at the tannery, but after an year, dissatisfied with the job, leaves Budapest to come back to Berlin and the accademic career.

Eugene Wigner works on the Manhattan Project at University of Chicago. He leads a team of twenty theoretical physicists whose task is to design the production nuclear reactors that would convert uranium into plutonium. He is one of fifty people to witness Fermi’s demonstration of the first self-sustaining chain reaction.

Eugene Wigner returns in Berlin to work on his book "Group Theory and Its Application to the Quantum Mechanics of Atomic Spectra", which is publicated in 1931 and to continues his research. In this period he also lectures on quantum mechanics.

Eugene Wigner works for two semesters with Richard Becker at Technische Hochschule. Here he explores quantum mechanics, studying the work of Erwin Schrödinger. He also investigates into the group theory of Ferdinand Frobenius and Eduard Ritter von Weber. Becker than suggests that Wigner works with the great mathematician David Hilbert at the University of Göttingen.

Eugene Wigner is appointed Director of Research at the Clinton Laboratory. Here he founds the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology, an important training facility for the new field of reactor engineering. He also lays the groundwork for the Materials Testing Reactor at Oak Ridge, the first enriched-uranium high-powered reactor that is cooled and moderated with water.

Eugene Wigner works independently on quantum mechanics, in particular on the use of techniques derived from group theory. He also continues teaching, accepting a variety of visiting professorships. He becomes interested in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism and he publishes a collection of philosophical essays in Symmetries and Reflections (1967). He continues also as an advisor to Oak Ridge, focusing on research aimed at finding ways to protect civilians from nuclear war.

Eugene Wigner meets and marries a young physics student, Amelia Frank. Unfortunately, she dies of cancer less than a year later.

Eugene Wigner is born in Budapest, one of three children to Erzsébet and Antal Wigner. The father runs a leather tanning factory, Erzsébet is a devoted housewife and mother. Since he is five years old he is given private tuition at home. When he is ten he enters an elementary school but about a year after he is told that he has tuberculosis. He is sent to a sanatorium in Austria. He spends six weeks there before being told that the diagnosis is wrong and that he has never had tuberculosis.

Wigner joins University of Göttingen. Hilbert gets ill and retreats from work. Following the suggestion of Szilard, Wigner begins a book that would make his name, Group Theory and Its Application to Quantum Mechanics(1931). It is in Göttingen that Wigner starts the line of research that would later leads to the Nobel Prize. He develops the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics and in 1927 introduces the Wigner D-matrix.

Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard visit Albert Einstein on Long Island. They convince Einstein to address a letter to President Roosevelt about the urgency of producing atomic weapons.

Eugene Wigner moves to Technische Hochschule in Berlin where he receives his doctoral degree in 1925. Wigner experiences firsthand the emerging understanding of quantum mechanics. In these years, he frequents afternoon colloquiums regularly attended by personalities as Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Max von Laue, and Walther Nernst; Wolfgang Pauli and Werner Heisenberg sometimes join the discussion too. Michael Polanyi supervises Wigner's dissertation, "Formation and Decay of Molecules".

Wigner joins Princeton University for a lectureship in mathematical physics sharing the position with John von Neumann. From 1930 to 1933 Wigner spends part of the year at Princeton, part in Berlin. In 1933 he moves permanently to the US because of the Nazi regime. At Princeton he finds that the nuclear force that binds neutrons and protons together is short-range and independent of any electric charge.

Wigner returns to Princeton as Thomas D. Jones professor of mathematical physics. Although he continues to lead his variegated research program, he is increasingly drawn to war-related applied projects. He joins therefore the Manhattan Project. Returned to Princeton he deepens topics in nuclear physics, explores the foundations of quantum mechanics, works in relativistic wave equations. He works on random matrix elements. These bring him to the founding of quantum chaos theory.

Eugene Wigner accepts an assistantship offered by Polanyi with the x-ray crystallographer Karl Weissenberg at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Weissenberg assigns Wigner a problem that requires an exploration of the elementary aspects of group or symmetry theory. Wigner soon understands the huge potential of applying symmetry theory to quantum mechanics. Using the tools of group theory, Wigner derives many rules for atomic spectra following from the existence of rotational symmetry.

Eugene Wigner begins working at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Elektrochemistry (now the Fritz Haber Institute). Here he meets Michael Polanyi, a physical chemist also native of Budapest. Polanyi becomes Wigner’s advisor for a doctoral dissertation in chemical engineering that contained the first theory of rates of disassociation and association of molecules.

Eugene Wigner enters Technical Institute in Budapest. He studies here for only one year.

Eugene Wigner receives one half of the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles". The other half of the prize goes to Maria Goeppert Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen.

Eugene Wigner dies from pneumonia in Princeton at the age of 92.

Eugene Wigner enters Fasori Lutheran Gymnasium where he receives a solid training in Hungarian literature and language, Latin, history, mathematics, and religion. He wants to study physics at the university but prospects for obtaining a physics professorship in Hungary are very poor, for this reason he follows the advice from his father and chooses chemical engineering.

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