Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE

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Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE

Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Death: September 19, 1995 (88)
Oakenholt, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Heinrich Peierls and Elly Elisabeth Peierls
Husband of Eugenia Nikolaevna 'Genia' Peierls
Father of Private; Ronald Frank Peierls; Private and Private
Brother of Alfred Heinrich Peierls and Annie Louise Krebs

Occupation: Physicist
Managed by: Erica Howton
Last Updated:

About Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE

Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE was a German-born British physicist who had a major role in Britain's nuclear programme, and also had a role in many modern sciences. His obituary in Physics Today describes him as "a major player in the drama of the eruption of nuclear physics into world affairs...".



Rudolf Peierls' parents were Heinrich Peierls and Elizabeth Weigert .... The family were ethnically Jewish but did not practice the Jewish religion. Heinrich Peierls was director of the Berlin-Oberschoneweide factory of Allgemeine Elektrizitatsgesellschaft when Rudolf was born, and the following year he became a member of the board. When Rudolf was fourteen years old his mother died of Hodgkin's disease, and his father married Else Hermann (who was not Jewish) soon after.

In the summer of 1930 Peierls went to a conference in Odessa where he met not only with Lev Landau, but also many of his colleagues. One of these colleagues was Eugenia Nilolaevna Kannegisser, known as Genia [6]:-

With their German and Russian backgrounds, neither of them could converse in the other's mother tongue and the only common language spoken sufficiently well by both to communicate reasonably comfortably was English. After six months of intense correspondence by letter, Rudolf Peierls travelled to Leningrad again in March 1931, and during his brief stay - much to the dismay of his surprised family - married Genia.

Genia and Rudolf married on 15 March 1931; they had three daughters Joanna, Gaby and Catherine, and one son Ronald who became a computational mathematician.



Early in 1941 Peierls invited Klaus Fuchs to join him, Otto Frisch and James Chadwick, in the work on the theoretical side of the British project to develop an atomic bomb. In August 1943 the Quebec Conference set up a formal collaboration between Britain and the United States on nuclear weapons research and, after a fact finding mission by Peierls in Washington, all the key British researchers joined the Manhattan Project. Peierls worked first in New York then at Los Alamos until the end of World War II, when he returned to Birmingham. He continued to work there despite offers from Oxford, Manchester, London and Cambridge. During these years, he also worked as a consultant to the British atomic programme at Harwell where Klaus Fuchs, who had worked closely with him on the atomic bomb project, now held a senior position. When Fuchs was exposed as a Russian spy in 1950 it caused considerable embarrassment to Peierls who had to endure press speculation that he was also a spy


Peierls received many honours such as election to the Royal Society in 1945, and receiving their Royal Medal in 1959. He was also awarded the Max Planck Medal (1963), the Enrico Fermi Award (1980), the Matteucci Medal (1982), and the Copley Medal (1986). For his wartime contributions he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1946, but the most pleasing honour of all was a Knighthood in 1968 since it gave him an acceptance by the British establishment after many years of unfair suspicion.

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Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE's Timeline

June 5, 1907
Berlin, Germany
September 8, 1935
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England, United Kingdom
September 19, 1995
Age 88
Oakenholt, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom