Physics in Perspective

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 279–299 | Cite as

Quantum Humor: The Playful Side of Physics at Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics

  • Paul HalpernEmail author


From the 1930s to the 1950s, a period of pivotal developments in quantum, nuclear, and particle physics, physicists at Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen took time off from their research to write humorous articles, letters, and other works. Best known is the Blegdamsvej Faust, performed in April 1932 at the close of one of the Institute’s annual conferences. I also focus on the Journal of Jocular Physics, a humorous tribute to Bohr published on the occasions of his 50th, 60th, and 70th birthdays in 1935, 1945, and 1955. Contributors included Léon Rosenfeld, Victor Weisskopf, George Gamow, Oskar Klein, and Hendrik Casimir. I examine their contributions along with letters and other writings to show that they offer a window into some issues in physics at the time, such as the interpretation of complementarity and the nature of the neutrino, as well as the politics of the period.


Niels Bohr Kanetaka Ariyama Hans Bethe Hendrik Casimir James Chadwick Paul Ehrenfest George Gamow Piet Hein Werner Heisenberg Oskar Klein Hendrik Kramers Wolfgang Pauli Rudolf Peierls Léon Rosenfeld Stefan Rozental Arnold Sommerfeld Victor Weisskopf Niels Bohr Institute Blegdamsvej Faust Journal of Jocular Physics humor history of atomic physics history of nuclear physics 



I am grateful to Finn Aaserud and Felicity Pors of the Niels Bohr Archive for copies of the Blegdamsvej Faust and Journal of Jocular Physics, and for information about Oskar Klein’s unpublished submission to its first volume. I thank Robert P. Crease and Peter Pesic for encouraging comments, and Roger H. Stuewer for his excellent, careful, and knowledgeable editorial work on my paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mathematics, Physics and StatisticsUniversity of the Sciences in PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaUSA

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