George Placzek (native name: Georg Placzek) (September 26, 1905 –
October 9, 1955) was a Czech physicist.
Born in Brno, Moravia, then part of Austria-Hungary, to a wealthy
Jewish family. Placzek studied physics in
Prague and Vienna. He
worked with Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, Rudolf Peierls, Werner
Heisenberg, Victor Weisskopf, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Lev Landau,
Edoardo Amaldi, Emilio Segrè,
Leon van Hove
Leon van Hove and many other prominent
physicists of his time. His wife, Els Placzek (née Andriesse) was an
ex-wife of physicist Hans von Halban.
Placzek's major areas of scientific work involved a fundamental theory
of Raman scattering, molecular spectroscopy in gases and liquids,
neutron physics and mathematical physics. Together with Otto Frisch,
he suggested a direct experimental proof of nuclear fission.
Niels Bohr and others, he was instrumental in clarifying
the role of Uranium 235 for the possibility of nuclear chain
During his stay in Landau's circle in
Kharkiv around 1937, Placzek
witnessed the brutal reality of Joseph Stalin's regime. His first-hand
experience of this influenced the political opinions of his close
friends, in particular, fathers of nuclear and thermonuclear bombs,
Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. 
Later, Placzek was the only Czech with a leading position in the
Manhattan project, where he worked from 1943 till 1946 as a member of
the British Mission; first in Canada as the leader of a theoretical
division at the
Montreal Laboratory and then (since May 1945) in Los
Alamos, later replacing his friend
Hans Bethe as the leader of the
theoretical group. Since 1948, Placzek was a member of the Institute
for Advanced Study in Princeton, USA.
Placzek's premature death in
Zurich produced rumors about his possible
suicide influenced by his long-time serious illness. The rumors were
based on the theory that suicide-proneness is genetically predisposed,
whereas there were five or six suicides within three generations of
Recently, many new facts about
George Placzek and his family roots
emerged in connection with a Symposium held in Placzek's memory.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Georg Placzek (physicist).
^ J. Fischer:
George Placzek - an unsung hero of physicsCern Courier,
Vol. 45, No. 7, 2005.
^ a b c d A. Gottvald: Kdo byl Georg Placzek (1905-1955) Archived
2007-06-25 at the Wayback Machine. Čs. čas. fyz., Vol. 55, No. 3,
2005, pp. 275-287 (in Czech) (pdf)
^ Frisch O. R.: "The Discovery of Fission – How It All Began".
Physics Today 20 (1967), 11, pp. 43-48
^ Wheeler J. A.: "Mechanism of Fission". Physics Today 20 (1967), 11,
^ D. C. Fakley: "The British Mission". Los Alamos Science,
Winter/Spring 1983, pp. 186-189
^ Abstracts from the Symposion in Memory of George Placzek
Brno (Czech Republic), 2005
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