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Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, (June 5, 1907, Berlin – September 19, 1995, Oxford), was a German-Born British physicist.

The son of a Jewish businessman, he studied nuclear physics under the tutelage of Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli. His early work on quantum physics led to the theory of positive carriers to explain the thermal and electrical conductivity behaviors of semiconductors. He moved to Birmingham University, Birmingham, England when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. In 1939, he started working on atomic research with Otto Frisch and James Chadwick.

In March 1940, he co-authored the Frisch-Peierls memorandum. This short paper was the first to set out how one could devise an atomic bomb from a small amount of fissable uranium-235. They calculated that about 1lb would be needed. Until then it had been assumed that such a bomb would require many tons of uranium, and consequently was impractical to build and use. The paper was pivotal in igniting the interest of first the British and later the American authorities in atomic weapons. It's finding made their way to America through the report of the MAUD Committee, an important trigger in the establishment of the Manhattan Project and the subsequent development of the atomic bomb.

Peierls joined the Manhattan project in 1943, being excluded of joining in the early years because of his German origin.

After the war, Peierls reassumed its position in the physics department at Birmingham University where we worked until 1963 before joining the University of Oxford. He was knighted in 1968. He retired from Oxford in 1974. He wrote several books including The Laws of Nature (1955), Surprises in Theoretical Physics (1979), More Surprises in Theoretical Physics (1991) and an autobiography, Bird of Passage (1985).

In 1980 he received the Enrico Fermi Award from the US Government for exceptional contribution to the science of atomic energy [1].

2 October 2004. The building housing the sub-department of Theoretical Physics at Oxford University was formally named the Sir Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics.

Physics Encyclopedia

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