Nobel Prize Award for Physics 1931 - 1940

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for physics from 1931 to 1940 including Heisenberg, Chadwick, and Enrico Fermi, what they won for, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.

1931 No Award

1932 Werner Heisenberg (1901- ), German. Work: Making up a quantum mechanics, and new discoveries about hydrogen.

Behind the Award--Heisenberg once said that Nobel records are kept secret so that the judges can evaluate the candidate's personal behavior in addition to his scientific work. Heading the list of personal crimes, which can take a candidate out of the running, is publicity seeking.

1933 Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961), Austrian.

Paul A. M. Dirac (1902- ), British. Work: The development of certain facets of atomic theory.

1934 No Award

1935 James Chadwick (1891-1974), British. Work: Discovering the neutron.

Behind the Award--A neutron is so tiny it would take 10 trillion of them to cover an inch. They can smash into atoms, Chadwick said, "the way a wooden toothpick can penetrate a magnetic field where a steel pin cannot."

1936 Victor F. Hess (1883-1964), American (b. Austria). Work: Discovery of cosmic radiation.

Carl D. Anderson (1905- ), American. Work: Discovering the positron.

1937 Clinton J. Davisson (1881-1958), American.

George P. Thomson (1892- ), British. Work: Discovering how crystals diffract electrons.

Behind the Award--When Davisson, a struggling father of 4, found out he had to pay his own way to Sweden to collect the prize, he went to the bank to borrow the money to do so. He then used part of his prize check to repay the bank. A decade later a reporter asked him if the Nobel money had affected him, and he answered, "Outwardly, we live as before. But below the decks, there is a serenity which previously was lacking and which wealth alone can bring."

1938 Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), American (b. Italy). Work: Research on radioactive elements.

1939 Ernest O. Lawrence (1901-1958), American. Work: The invention of the cyclotron.

Behind the Award--Lawrence was nominated in 1938, but lost the prize to Fermi. His invention, the cyclotron, "spirals atomic bullets up to tremendous speeds by repeated electrical pushes." The year before he received the award, a San Francisco Fair promoter wanted to borrow the cyclotron for an exhibition of atom smashing. When Lawrence mentioned that loose neutrons could break out and sterilize the spectators, the promoter changed his mind.

1940 No Award

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