Physics in Perspective

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 46-97

First online:

Adventures of a Theoretical Physicist, Part I: Europe

  • Laszlo TiszaAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Email author 

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I was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 7, 1907, and this first part of my interview with Andor Frenkel focuses on my life and work in Europe. After my elementary and secondary education I studied mathematics at the University of Budapest for two years. I went to the University of Göttingen in 1928 where I attended Max Born’s lectures on quantum mechanics, which influenced me to change from mathematics to physics, and as a consequence I focused on filling the gaps in my physics background. When ready to turn to research work I followed the advice of my friend Edward Teller and spent three months in Werner Heisenberg’s group at the University of Leipzig in the summer of 1930. That fall I returned to the University of Budapest, where I received my in the summer of 1932. Two months later, because I had become entangled in the illegal Communist Party, I was arrested and sentenced to fourteen months in prison. Fifteen months after my release, I joined Lev Landau’s group at the Ukrainian Physical-Technical Institute in Kharkov, passed Landau’s so-called “theorminimum” program on my second attempt, began research on the theory of liquid helium, and lost my faith in communism following Stalin’s repressive measures. I obtained an exit visa through the Hungarian Legation and returned to Budapest in June 1937. That September, again with the help of my friend Edward Teller, I attended a conference in Paris where I met Fritz London and Edmond Bauer, who arranged for me a small scholarship and an association with the Langevin laboratory at the Collège de France. Four months later, in January 1938 Kapitza, and John F. Allen and A. Donald Misener reported their independent discovery of the superfluidity of helium, which London and I explored theoretically and I explained with my two-fluid theory later in 1938. Following the German invasion of France, my wife and I left Paris for Toulouse in June 1940, obtained exit visas to enter Spain and Portugal in February 1941, and boarded a Portuguese ship for New York the following month.

The second part of this interview, covering my life and work in America, will appear in the next issue.


Alexander Akhiezer John F. Allen Edmond Bauer Guido Beck Niels Bohr Max Born S.N. Bose Constantin Carathéodory Richard Courant Peter Debye Paul Ehrenfest Albert Einstein Werner Heisenberg David Hilbert Fritz Houtermans Peter Kapitza Thomas S. Kuhn Nicholas Kurti Lev Landau Evgenii Lifshitz Fritz London Heinz London A. Donald Misener John von Neumann Emmy Noether Rudolf Ortvay George Placzek Isaak Pomeranchuk Martin Ruhemann Francis Simon Edward Teller George E. Uhlenbeck Bartel L. van der Waerden Alexander Weissberg Victor Weisskopf Eugene Wigner Matthias Gymnasium University of Budapest Loránd Eötvös University of Natural Sciences Polytechnic University of Göttingen University of Leipzig Ukrainian Physical-Technical Institute Collège de France Institut Henri Poincaré mathematics group theory theoretical physics thermodynamics quantum mechanics quantum electrodynamics Born-Oppenheimer approximation light quanta statistical physics Bose-Einstein condensation Bose-Einstein statistics Fermi-Dirac statistics molecular vibrational-rotational spectra superfluid helium phase transition superfluidity two-fluid theory of nitrogen-fixation communism