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Eugene Wigner
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Scientist
    (November 17, 1902-January 1, 1995)
    Born in Budapest, Hungary
    Theoretical physicist and mathematician
    Applied group theory to physics, resulting in the development of symmetry principles
    In the Manhattan Project, headed a team designing nuclear reactors to convert uranium to weapons-grade plutonium
    Co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles ‘ (1963)
    Member of the National Bureau of Standards (1947-51), the National Research Council (1951-54), and the General Advisory Council of the Atomic Energy Committee (1952-57,1959-64)
    Wrote ‘The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences’ (1960)
    One of his symmetry principles, conservation of parity (essentially, that ‘right’ and ‘left’ are indistinguishable in fundamental particle interactions), was later demonstrated to not always hold for subatomic particles.
    He claimed that the United States could recover from a nuclear war more quickly than Germany recovered from World War II.
    He wrote, ‘It is not at all natural that ‘laws of nature’ exist, much less that man is able to discover them.’
    He was fired from a teaching position at Berlin’s Technical University because of his Jewish background (1935).
    He was a participant in the meeting between Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein that led to a letter being sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning of the potential consequences of Nazi Germany developing an atomic weapon (August 2, 1939).
    He helped Enrico Fermi produce the first controlled nuclear chain reaction (December 2, 1942).
    He predicted the existence of metallic hydrogen, which would first be created in a lab 22 years after his death.

Credit: C. Fishel


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