Biography and History

A Hungarian-born physicist, Wigner worked in the early 1930s as a professor at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin, where he studied the quantum mechanical interpretation of atomic spectra which resulted in the publication of his book Gruppentheorie und Ihre Anwendung auf die Quantenmechanik Der Atomspektren (1931), later translated and published as Group Theory (1951), now a classic in its field. He moved to the United States, where he became professor of mathematical physics at Princeton University from 1933 to1937 and from 1937 to 1938 at the University of Wisconsin; he then returned to Princeton, where he worked until 1971, becoming professor emeritus. Prior to World War II, Wigner, along with Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein, was instrumental in getting the United States government to investigate the use of atomic energy for military purposes. During the War, he was on the staff of the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago (the Manhattan Project) researching ways to produce an atomic bomb, and he helped design the nuclear reactor at Hanford, Wash., where plutonium was produced. He was a member of the general advisory committee for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (1952-1957, 1959-1964) and director of the Civil Defense Research Project at Oak Ridge, Tenn. (1964-1965), reflecting his interests in civil defense and national security. He received the Enrico Fermi Award (1958) and the Max Planck Medal (1961), and in 1963 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Source: From the finding aid for C0742


  • Physicists -- New Jersey -- Princeton..