Faust in Copenhagen

From Edge, (adapted from the introduction in Gino Segre’s book):

Faust In April 1932 seven physicists, six men and one woman, attended a small annual gathering in Copenhagen. To be honest, only six of them were actually there. The seventh, Wolfgang Pauli, had originally intended to go, as he had in earlier years and would do so again, but he decided that spring instead to take a vacation. He was there in spirit, as you will see.

Four of the seven—Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac, Werner Heisenberg, and Wolfgang Pauli—would be placed in most physicists’ selection of the century’s top ten physicists. Lise Meitner, the only woman in the group, ranks high on anyone’s list of the century’s most important experimentalists. Another of the seven, Max Delbrück, changed fields soon after the meeting, though he never stopped defining himself as a physicist. He went on to become one of the founding fathers of modern molecular biology and ranks as one of that discipline’s top ten. All of them taught and mentored a generation of future scientists. The last of the seven, Paul Ehrenfest, was perhaps the greatest teacher of them all.

…The contrast between the two [Bohr & Pauli], the affection felt for both of them, and the affection they felt for each other, is manifest in a skit put on by the young physicists at the April 1932 Copenhagen meeting. That year was the hundredth anniversary of the death of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the passing of the man, both humanist and scientist, widely regarded as the last true universal genius. As commemorations marking the occasion took place all over Europe, this small band of physicists at the annual informal gathering decided to have a celebration of their own. It took the form of a sketch, a tongue-in-cheek adaptation to the world of physics of Faust, Goethe’s great drama. In the script, written primarily by Delbrück, noble Bohr was identified as the Lord, sardonic Pauli as Mephistopheles, and troubled Ehrenfest as Faust. As in Goethe’s version Mephistopheles has the wittiest lines, but that was of course true of Pauli’s real-life speech as well.

More here.