Niels Bohr

By: Emma Powell

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Niels Bohr was born on October 7th, 1885 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He grew up in an environment that encouraged him to do great things, specifically academically. His family was highly influential and greatly educated. His father, Christian Bohr, was a physiology professor at the University of Copenhagen and his mother, Ellen Adler came from a prominent, highly educated Jewish family. Even his younger brother, Harold, grew up to become a mathematics professor.

How Niels became interested in science

At an early age, Niels Bohr knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to become a scientist. His father was the first person to get him interested in physics and Niels had always wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was a physiology professor at university of Copenhagen, which is the school Niels later attended, in 1903. At first, Niels studied philosophy and mathematics, but after winning a prize for an essay he wrote on physics, he decided to trade philosophy for physics. In 1909, Bohr finally got his masters in physics and went on to complete his doctorate from Christian Christiansen in 1911. Later, Bohr conducted experiments under J.J. Thompson, who discovered the electron in 1897.

Hard times

Unfortunately for Niels Bohr, Hitler’s reign coincided with his life. Luckily, Niels managed to not only safely make it to America, but also help other scientists in the process. He also sheltered German Jewish physicists at his Copenhagen institute. Shortly following this, he helped many of them go to America. After the Nazis got to Denmark, Niels’ family fled to Sweden. He later went to America with Aage, his son. During that time, NIels worked on the Manhattan Project.

Major Experiment/Contributions

Niels Bohr was around in what seems like just the right time. The electron had just been discovered and there were lots of theories on the atomic model. He worked with many great scientists and added on to the work of fellow scientists as well. He’s also known for providing shelter for German Jewish scientists and even helping some get to America. He’s best known for his work on the atomic model, but he’s done so much more.

The atom’s structure has been a topic of debate among scientists for many years and Bohr found a solution to some of the questions floating around. The scientists before him, Ernest Rutherford, had said “the atom had a miniature, dense nucleus surrounded by a cloud of nearly weightless electrons”. However, all his theories didn't quite match up. Bohr fixed these problems with his new theory for the atomic model. He suggested to combine it with the idea of quanta, (Max Plank). He said the electrons had different levels of energy a fixed distance from the nucleus. When the atom gained energy, it jumped a level away form the nucleus, and when it lost energy, it fell towards the nucleus. His theory wasn't exactly perfect, but it was a major step for other scientists to further develop among the years.

Another project Niels made a big contribution to, was the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan project came about when scientists that had fled to America learned that Germany was working on making a bomb of mass destruction. The Germans had discovered how to split a uranium atom. The scientists knew they had to act quickly. Unfortunately, there weren't many who backed them up. They sent a letter to Roosevelt explaining their concern, but he wasn't as worried as they were, but nevertheless agreed to help. That’s when the Manhattan project was started. The outcome of the project was killing over 100,000 and annihilating cities in the enemies’ territory. The scientists in charge of the project were Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and lastly Niels Bohr.


Nobel prize in physics

Copley medal

Sonning prize

Hughes medal

Atoms for peace awards

Matteucci medal

Max plank medal

Franklin medal


"Niels Bohr." Famous Scientists. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

"Niels Bohr - Biographical." Niels Bohr - Biographical. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

"The Manhattan Project." Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

"Niels Bohr Documentary Mobile." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

"UT Science Forum." Creation of The Manhattan Project Presented at This Week’s Science Forum. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

"J.J. Thomson." Facts & Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

"Overview of Quantum Chemistry." Overview of Quantum Chemistry. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Extra Credit

Niels Bohr is the most influential scientist. He not only contributed to numerous theories and projects, but also helped out fellow scientists. Also, most of his kids grew up and had very successful careers, such as, a doctor, lawyer and fellow scientist. After college, Niels worked under JJ Thompson, the man who had only just recently discovered the electron. later he went on to evolve the atomic model. This was his biggest achievement, but he didn't stop there.

Niels used the goodness in his heart and gave refuge to German Jews during Hitler's rise to power. He also went on to help many of them get to America. This is important to him being the most influential scientist, because he not only made several scientific discoveries, but also saved numerous lives, completely unrelated to his field of work. Lastly, after helping in the Manhattan Project (which played a big part in the war) he became somewhat of a humanitarian and dedicated his life to getting nuclear power to be used for good things. Many scientists admire his work and his ideas are still used today.

Fun Facts!

When Niels was young, he played soccer for Copenhagen-based Akademisk Boldklub.

Niels and his wife, Margrethe Norlund had 6 children.

Niels’s son, Aage, also went on to become a famous physicist.

Niels was born and died in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Niels' brother was on the Denmark Olympic soccer team that won a silver medal.

Niels Bohr Documentary Mobile