Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Google Doodle, Niels Bohr's 127th Birthday

I promised myself that I was getting out of the Google Doodle business.  At one time I felt the need to post on every Doodle resulting in some posts about people or things for which I had no passion.  A post on a Doodle now is a something of a wave / particle function of a blurred probability which will collapse into a firm reality when the reader observes my blog.  It is a Schrödinger's post of indeterminacy (loosely based on Schrödinger's cat) of unknown probability.  
Niels Bohr 1885-1962

The long and short of it is the probability of my posting is directly proportional to the coolness of the Doodle, the person or thing it commemorates and inversely proportional to the complexity of the subject and my laziness.  So with this particular Doodle, we have a really cool Doodle for one of my scientific heroes, on an extremely complex subject with a typical level of laziness.  This is going to result in a short post pretty much describing the doodle, and you, dear reader, can spend the rest of the day sorting through Niels Bohr's many accomplishments and theories on Wikipedia which have confused smarter people than me.  

Niels Bohr was one of the principal authors of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics and the creator of the Bohr model of the atom.  He won the 1922 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in quantum theory.  Later he worked on the Manhattan Project for the creation of the atomic bomb.  Bohr's moral beliefs and his desire to share nuclear technology with the scientific community and the Soviets did not set well with Roosevelt or  Churchill. 

Helium Atom

The Doodle depicts a spooky and foggy looking Google with a stylized Bohr / Rutherford model atom for the first O.  I believe the foggy Google is somewhat representative of a cloud chamber.  A cloud chamber is used to delineate particle tracks resulting from radioactive decay or nuclear collisions.    The model of the atom is not specifically a Bohr model which would not be particularly recognizable by the public but rather a more generic stylized version of both the Bohr and Rutherford models done in the Google colors of red, yellow, green, and blue.  The widespread use of this symbol in the shields of various nuclear agencies, military heraldry,  and corporate logos has placed it in the public's imagination of what an atom looks like.  The truth is closer to the image at the left.  The positive nucleus of protons and neutrons is surrounded by a cloud of probability for the negatively charged electrons located in orbits as indicated by the murky black and gray sphere.  

The specific orbits or shells are labeled with n=1 which are the principal quantum numbers of the shell, (good luck with that--the complexity factor way exceeding the laziness factor in my mind).  The red squiggly depicts a photon being emitted from an electron jumping, the famous quantum leap,  from shell 3 to shell 2.  The formula states that the change in energy is equal to Planck's constant (h) times the frequency(v) of the photon.  Photons are packets (quanta) of electromagnetic radiation such as radio waves, heat, visible light, x-ray or gamma rays.  The energy of the photon is determined by its frequency which is inversely proportional to its wavelength.  The difference between harmless visible light and the penetrating ionizing radiation such as the x-ray is that the x-ray has a much higher frequency and shorter wavelength.  Those numbers on your radio dial are frequencies of the radio waves and the colors that your eye respond to is the various frequencies of visible light. 
Big Al Einstein and Niels Bohr
at the 1930 Solvay Conference

If you find some of Bohr's contentions in the Copenhagen Interpretation hard to believe, you are not alone.  Big Al Einstein had a lot of problems with the indeterminacy of the theory and said of it:

"Quantum mechanics is very impressive. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory yields a lot, but it hardly brings us any closer to the secret of the Old One. In any case I am convinced that He doesn't play dice." - Albert Einstein  

This is the basis of the famous God does not throw dice quote.  Bohr was no slouch though and not about to put up with any rhetorical nonsense from his life long friend.  To Big Al's contention that God was not a gambler, Bohr replied:

"Nor is it our business to prescribe to God how He should run the world." 

Image Credits:

Google Doodle:  Google, Doodles Finder

Niels Bohr:  Wikipedia, Niels Bohr

Helium Atom: Wikipedia, Atom

Einstein and Bohr: Instituut-Lorentz, Lorentz & the Solvay conferences


  1. Read Niels Bohr Motivational Quotes and share it.

  2. Hi Sextant - your posts are so erudite they are mostly over my head, but I'll keep reading - my mother-in-law used to say (half in AFrikaans) - "Plak it thick and some will stick". Thank you for stimulating my brain cells.

  3. NB - Love your quotes from Ted Hughes and Horace Lamb!

    1. fiftyodd,

      Always an honor, thank you for your kind comments but the ability to copy and paste from Wikipedia does not require much erudition! I don't understand this crap either, just fascinated by it.

      "Plak it thick and some will stick"...sound like what are politicians are doing now for the election. If bullshit was music these campaigns would be brass bands.

      Oh the Ted Hughes I understand, but why Horace Lamb, are you into fluid dynamics?

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. Hey, you need to acknowledge that your friend Niels Bohr got lots of his wonderful theory from a woman who should have received the credit (and possibly the Nobel) but didn't, of course. I can't think of her name right now.

    1. Are you sure you are not thinking of Einstein or Otto Hahn. Einstein's first wife, Marić , is said to have played a role in his theories. Wikipedia down plays that role:

      In 1900, Einstein was awarded the Zurich Polytechnic teaching diploma, but Marić failed the examination with a poor grade in the mathematics component, theory of functions.[27] There have been claims that Marić collaborated with Einstein on his celebrated 1905 papers,[28][29] but historians of physics who have studied the issue find no evidence that she made any substantive contributions.[30][31][32][33]

      Otto Hahn was awarded a Nobel prize for his work on nuclear fission, Lise Meitner worked with him and should have been a co-winner but Nobel committee was not in favor of awarding prizes to women, (despite Curie which was and remains a rarity) and the fact Meitner was Jewish probably did not work in her favor.

      Meitner worked with Bohr after leaving Nazi Germany in 1938 but at this time Bohr's discoveries were largely made. He won the Nobel in 1922.

      Marie Curie of course won the Nobel prize and worked with these physicists in international collaboration, but I don't believe Curie worked directly with Bohr.

      If you do find the name please let me know. I like women in science. I should do a post on Meitner.

      Carol, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    2. It was Meitner! I don't know what it was that she did and he got credit for.. but it was something...

    3. I agree with you regarding Otto Hahn and Meitner, but from what I read, Bohr was well beyond his creative years when he started working with Meitner. I will have to research this some more, but like I say Bohr won his Nobel in 1922 and did not work with Meitner until 1938.

      Here is an interesting article that confirms Hahn and Meitner.

      Going by the following account, it appears as though Bohr tried to help Meitner get her rightful claim to the Nobel:

      "Meitner buried herself in her work, but when Austria was annexed by the Nazi regime, she had to flee. Dutch physicists helped her escape to Holland in July 1938. She was 59 when she landed in Sweden, where she worked with Niels Bohr and corresponded with Hahn and other German scientists. Later that year, she met Hahn secretly in Copenhagen to plan a new series of experiments.

      Now, it gets tricky. Hahn performed the experiments that isolated the evidence for nuclear fission, finding that neutron bombardment produced elements that were lighter than uranium. But he was mystified by those results.

      “Perhaps you can come up with some sort of fantastic explanation,” Hahn wrote Meitner. “We knew ourselves that [uranium] can’t actually burst apart into [barium].”

      Meitner and Frisch quickly came up with a theory that explained nuclear fission, resolving Hahn’s key problem. “Hahn published the chemical evidence for fission without listing Meitner as a co-author,” writes The Washington Post in a review of a Meitner biography. “[It was] a move she understood, given the tinderbox that was Nazi Germany.”

      A letter from Bohr documents her inspiration in December 1938. Although some historians say that Hahn hoped he would be able to add her name later, others report that he maintained the fiction that Meitner functioned as a junior assistant. Whatever his intention, her insights were key to his discoveries — and to the developments in radioactivity and nuclear processes that changed the world.

      Meitner and Frisch made other key discoveries. They explained why no stable elements beyond uranium existed naturally. And she was the first to see that Einstein’s E = mc2 explained the source of the tremendous releases of energy in atomic decay, by the conversion of the mass into energy.

      The aunt and nephew coined the term “nuclear fission” when they published “Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction” in the journal Nature on Feb. 11, 1939. Instrumental as they were in the discovery (.pdf), they were still overlooked when it came to awarding the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It was Hahn alone who received the prize."

      Meitner won the Enrico Fermi prize in 1966 along with Hahn and Strassman. Bohr was not named in that prize.

      From as near as I can tell Bohr never denied credit to Meitner and he won his Nobel 16 years prior to working with Meitner. She is a fascinating woman and I need to read up on her and do a post.

  5. Wow! You is smart Sextant! To be honest, I couldn't get past Schrödinger's cat. I know you aren't a huge fan of the electronic pitcher box (TV), but there is a little show that is a huge hit called The Big Bang Theory? Have you ever watched it? That show is truly the only thing I ever tune into anymore on TV, at least until American Idol returns early next year.

    Anyway, it's a show about 4 genius best friends, Leonard, Sheldon and Raj who all have Doctorates and lowly little Howard who only has a Masters Degree in Engineering.

    They ran an espisode once, where Leonard's love interest in the show, the beautiful Penny, had to decide if she wanted to take a chance on losing Leonards friendship by dating him.

    Sheldon, the most genius of them all and also the one who is most socially awkward of the four needs to give her advice on whether she should take the chance on losing Leonards friendship but acquiring a possible romance or just stay friends and never know what could have been. Sheldon attempted to make her understand by telling her the story of Schrödinger's cats.

    And that my friend is how I came to know about Schrödinger's cat and now I read about it in your blog post and I feel ever so smart to know what it is you are talking least in that one sentence.

    I do love your posts on google doodles, even the ones I don't understand. I also love fiftyodds mother-in-laws quote, "Plak it thick and some will stick".

    1. Alicia,

      There is the tee shirt...

      Wanted Dead Or Alive! Schrödinger's Cat.

      I am not smart, Alicia, I just know how to copy and paste.

      I have not watched Big Bang Theory. I do however watch Elementary and like it.

      So was Schrödinger's cat at all predictive to the relationship?

      Alicia, thanks for the kind comment and stopping by.

    2. Yes, Penny realized when she kissed Leonard that it would be a good thing to be in a relationship with him and therefore that damn cat was alive. It's a cute show. But it's a funny sitcom type of show, Elementary is a bit more serious in nature, from what I can tell by the promos as I haven't watched it. I'm trying not to get too addicted to anymore tv shows. Time was I watched from 7pm to 11pm back to back shows Monday thru I'm a bit more selective.

    3. I only watch 3 shows a week and Elementary is the best. Modern day Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Holmes is a brilliant recovered drug addict--extremely eccentric. Watson is a washed up surgeon, blames herself for killing a patient. Watson is Holmes watch dog 24-7 companion to keep him off drugs, paid by his father. Holmes works as a consultant for NYPD and Watson has to tag along to keep Holmes away from the drugs. Catchy mysteries, lots of eccentric interaction between Holmes and Watson. Good show. Thoroughly enjoy it. Yes, it is a bit rough and dark.

  6. I did not know about wrote an intelligent post about him...I feel like I know him now:)

    1. Kim,

      Thanks for the kind comment. What I find interesting with these great minds, is for all their intelligence and great insight, they are still human and have very interesting and entangled lives.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.