The UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal – Niels Bohr Institute - University of Copenhagen

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The UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal was established in 1985 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Niels Bohr was one of the twentieth century’s most important scientists. In 1922, he received the Nobel Prize for his pioneering atomic model and he is regarded as one of the founders of modern quantum physics.

UNESCO is the United Nations Education, Culture and Science Organization and works to promote peace and enlightenment in the world. Niels Bohr’s ethical perspective on research and science led him to write an ‘Open Letter” to the UN in 1950, in which he urged world leaders to openly share knowledge about nuclear weapons in order to prevent an arms race. His ideal was an ‘Open World’ with knowledge shared freely and characterized by international cooperation. 

Since 1998, the UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal has been awarded to researchers who have made outstanding contributions to physics research - or to persons or organizations who have contributed significantly to developing peaceful cooperation across borders and  promoting open and free sharing of knowledge.

The UNESCO Niels Bohr medal is made out of gold and has an image of Bohr in profile on one side, reproduced and offset six times. The other side depicts Niels Bohr’s own sketch of the structure of the atom and the formula E2-E1=hf, linking the energy emitted in atomic transitions to the energy of the stationary states, along with Niels Bohr’s signature. The medal also bears the inscription: Contraria sunt complementa (Opposites are complementary), which refers to Bohr’s complementarity principle. The medal was designed by Swedish artist, Siv Holme-Muse. The medal is manufactured in France at ‘The Mint’ in Paris.

A special committee of distinguished physicists selects the recipients. Professor Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje from the Niels Bohr Institute, who is also a member of the Danish National Commission for UNESCO, has chaired the committee since the beginning in 1998 (this first time with former rector of the University of Copenhagen, Professor Ove Nathan). The first medal ceremony took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, but subsequent medal ceremonies have taken place in Copenhagen at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and, in 2013, in the Ceremonial Hall of the University of Copenhagen with participation of the UNESCO directorate. The events are sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Education. The prize is accompanied by a diploma signed by the Director General of UNESCO.