Niels Bohr, Atoms and Human Knowledge

Jens Rud Nielsen (1894-1979), who joined the OU Physics Department in 1924, was an undergraduate student of Niels Bohr (1885-1962) in Denmark.

Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, made two trips to the University of Oklahoma, first in 1937 and again in 1957. During the latter visit, on December 13, 1957, Bohr gave a public lecture entitled “Atoms and Human Knowledge.” It was delivered on the OU campus, in Holmberg Hall, Norman, Oklahoma, under the auspices of the University of Oklahoma Public Lectures Committee and the Frontiers of Science Foundation of Oklahoma.

Bohr’s 1957 lecture was recorded by then Professor of Physics Chun Lin and transcribed by Nielsen. Lin’s original reel-to-reel tape is in the OU History of Science Collections. The OU physics/astronomy program is now housed in two beautiful buildings on campus: Nielsen Hall and Lin Hall (completed 2018).

In 2010, Robin Noad, then Director of the Media Resource Center, Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, digitized the original reel-to-reel tape, which enables us to make a .wav file available online:

  1. m4v (high quality, recommended version, optimized for iTunes, volume adjusted; 117 MB).
  2. wav (lossless format, largest file size, volume not adjusted; 238 MB).

In the recording, Bohr begins at 6 min, 45 sec. He is preceded by an introduction delivered by Jens Rud Nielsen.

Bohr gave the talk before he had recovered from jet lag; as a result, his speaking voice becomes quieter over the course of the lecture. To partially compensate for this, I edited the audio file to progressively increase the volume as the talk proceeds, with an increase of up to 5.8 dB toward the end. The mp4 file reflects this editing; the wav file conveys the talk as recorded, without adjustments.

Bohr’s lecture was published as a booklet by the Frontiers of Science Foundation of Oklahoma, Inc. The Foundation has generously granted permission to distribute a scanned version online (download pdf, 2.9 MB).

An earlier version of the above post was originally part of a series celebrating the centennial of the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy. It was posted August 25, 2010, on a now-defunct blog of the History of Science Collections. I’m re-posting it here with a few updates and new links to the resources.

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