Czech Rep: George Placzek

26th September 1905 – 9th October 1955

George Placzek

George Placzek was born in Brno in the Czech Republic. After graduating and completing his PhD he travelled around Europe, working with scientists like Enrico Fermi, and finally ended up in Copenhagen with Neils Bohr.

He was always interested in the way that light scattered from molecules and the Raman effect but after working with Fermi and Bohr, he turned to scattering of slow neutrons in matter and studied the capture of slow neutrons with Otto Frisch.

Amongst European political instability, Placzek moved to the US and continued working with Bohr, helping him to understand the role of Uranium-235 in nuclear fission. George was also the only Czechoslovakian involved with The Manhattan project.

Later on, Placzek became a leading authority in neutron scattering and absorption in matter. He developed the theory of elastic and inelastic scattering of neutrons in solids and liquids when looking at the electron-neutron interaction.

Unfortunately, Placzek did not publish much of his scientific work himself so his contribution to nuclear physics is therefore not well-known. However, he was always keen to help his colleagues and collaborators so his insightful ideas still made it into the public domain and helped to further scientific knowledge.

George Placzek – an unsung hero of physics