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Niels Bohr Institute > Who, What, When > > History of the institute > The Copenhagen confere...

01 January 1929

The Copenhagen conferences 

The characteristic informal discussions between Bohr and his (most often) younger colleagues was institutionalised in 1929 with the first of the annual physics conferences at the institute.

Københavnerkonferencen 1930. Første række, fra venstre til højre: Oskar Klein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, George Gamow, Lev Landau, H.A. KramersUntypically for physics at the time, the conferences were held without a set programme, something that encouraged both the informal atmosphere and a discussion of the very most topical questions which might even have come up in the last few weeks or days.

The informal atmosphere is underscored by the performance at some of the conferences of a comedy written and performed by the younger guard of physicists and based on what had been discussed at the conference, the most famous among them being a parody of Faust in 1932 in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Goethe's death.

With hindsight, the conferences seem even more impressive than they did to an outsider at the time, as many of the young participants went on to become leaders in the field in various parts of the world.

Having at first been unique to Copenhagen, the concept was soon brought to many of the places where the attending physicists subsequently got permanent jobs. The format of the original conferences continues at Bohr's institute to this day.

Finn Aaserud, historian of science, director of the Niels Bohr Archive

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