Photo of Victor F. Weisskopf

Victor F. Weisskopf

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For important contributions to our understanding of nuclear matter and nuclear reactions, and early fundamental contributions to our understanding of elementary particles.

Victor Weisskopf’s contributions to science and peace are legendary. Weisskopf was a key figure in the Manhattan Project, which developed an atomic bomb that helped end World War II, but later campaigned against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1908, Weisskopf, known as “Viki’’ to his friends and family, studied physics at the University of Gottingen, in Germany, which at the time was the epicenter of the study of quantum mechanics. He received a doctorate in 1931.

Weisskopf, who was Jewish, moved to the United States to flee the rise of the Nazis and took a teaching position at the University of Rochester. He joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 and helped head the team’s theoretical division.

After World War II he joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and eventually became head of the Physics Department. He also joined the Union of Concerned Scientists at its founding and later served on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, where he helped convince Pope John Paul II to speak out against nuclear weapons.

Weisskopf, an accomplished pianist who loved the works of Mozart, died in 2002.

By Robert Warren