Appointment of Max Born to Chair of Natural Philosophy, 1936

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In 1936, Max Born (1882-1970), a refugee from Nazi Germany, was appointed to the Tait Chair of Natural Philosophy. He would go on to win the Nobel Prize (1954) for his work in quantum mechanics.

When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Max Born was one of Germany's leading scientists. He had worked at Göttingen University since 1921, elaborating the quantum theory of the atom. As Director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics, he turned Göttingen into a major international centre for the new field of quantum mechanics, a term that he had himself coined in 1924. In 1926, had influentially initiated the mathematical approach to Schrödinger's wave function, which he recognised as running counter to the determinism of classical physics.

Antisemitic laws brought in by the Nazis stripped Born of his post at Göttingen. He emigrated with his family to Britain, where he lectured for three years at Cambridge University. In 1935, he published a successful popular science book The Restless Universe (1935) and Atomic Physics, which would long remain a standard text-book. Looking for a more permanent post, he spent six months at the Indian Institute of Physics in Bangalore. His search ended when in 1936 he succeeded Sir Charles Galton Darwin (1887-1962) as Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy

Born built a school of research physicists at Edinburgh which focused on the physics of solid and liquid states. Many of his students and co-workers were fellow refugees, including Klaus Fuchs (1911-1988) (later convicted of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union) and Ernst Walter Kellermann (1915-2012). Born became a naturalised British subject on 31 August 1939, the day before World War II broke out. He remained at Edinburgh until 1952, where he enjoyed particularly close friendships with Sir Edward Victor Appleton (1892-1965), mathematician Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker (1873-1956), philosopher Norman Kemp Smith (1872-1958), and musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940).

Other University Events in 1936


  • 'Gustav's Edinburgh Memories' [[1], accessed 22 August 2014]
  • Richard Staley, 'Born, Max (1882–1970)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) [[2], accessed 22 Aug 2014]