Ben Mottelson in distinguished company in American Philosophical Society

May 19th, 2011
A professor at the Niels Bohr Institute, Ben Mottelson, has been appointed as a member of the distinguished American Philosophical Society. Credit: Niels Bohr Institute
Professor at the Niels Bohr Institute, Ben Mottelson has been appointed as a member of the distinguished American Philosophical Society, which was founded by the American statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin.

"Ben Mottelson is one of the giants of theoretical nuclear physics", states the American Philosophical Society as the reason for electing Ben Mottelson. With Aage Bohr, he discovered the connection between collective and single particle motion in atomic nuclei, thus establishing the modern framework for understanding the behavior of nuclei. With Pines and Bohr, he pioneered the application of BCS theory of superconductivity to nuclei. He has been a major international figure, a founder and first director of the European Center for Nuclear Theory, and proponent of international cooperation. He remains quite scientifically active, focusing on two new areas: man-made finite quantal systems e.g., metallic clusters, quantum dots, and ultracold atomic clouds, which, as he has shown, can be fruitfully viewed as "artificial" nuclei; and reinterpretation of the foundations of quantum mechanics, where the central issue he grapples with is the role of fortuitousness in the theory.

While the American Philosophical Society has many and weighty reasons for the election of Ben Mottelson, he himself is more modest in his own pawky way.

"It is a great pleasure to receive this recognition for my work from the American Philosophical Society", says Ben Mottelson. He says that his work has always been very satisfying and he had a fantastic collaboration with Aage Bohr.

Aage Bohr and Ben Mottelson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1975 for their discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection. Credit: Niels Bohr Archive
Nobel Prize in Physics

Ben Mottelson was born in Chicago, USA and received his education at Harvard University. After receiving his PhD in nuclear physics, a scholarship brought him to the Niels Bohr Institute in 1950 where he began collaborating with the physicist Aage Bohr. They described their research into the structure of atomic nucleus in the work, Nuclear Structure, published in two volumes in 1969 and 1975.

Aage Bohr and Ben Mottelson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1975 their discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection. They shared the prize with the American physicist James Rainwater.

Promoting useful knowledge

The American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, was founded in 1743 by one of the most prominent men of the Enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin, with the aim of 'promoting useful knowledge'. Today the society is divided into three classes: Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences and Social Sciences.

Ben Mottelson is naturally a member of the category for the mathematical and physical sciences and can be considered both an American and International member. Although Ben Mottelson was born an American he is also an International member as he has been a Danish citizen since 1971.

He is now an adjunct professor and at the age of 85 is still very active and comes into the institute almost every day to work on new scientific articles. Transportation to and fro is done by bike - 12 km each way and he sprints up the stairs to the third floor where he has an office next door to the library, which he frequents to read the scientific journals and keep up with his research area.

Former members of the society include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur and Albert Einstein. The society has 1004 appointed members in total and of these 240 have received the Nobel Prize. A truly distinguished society.

Provided by University of Copenhagen

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