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The Tony Award—winning play that soars at the intersection of science and art, Copenhagen is an explosive re-imagining of the mysterious wartime meeting between two Nobel laureates to discuss the atomic bomb.
In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a clandestine trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart and friend Niels Bohr. Their work together on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle had revolutionized atomic physics. But now the world had changed and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war. Why Heisenberg went to Copenhagen and what he wanted to say to Bohr are questions that have vexed historians ever since. In Michael Frayn’s ambitious, fiercely intelligent, and daring new play Heisenberg and Bohr meet once again to discuss the intricacies of physics and to ponder the metaphysical—the very essence of human motivation.
is because he is beginning to understand! The Germans drive out most of their best physicists because they’re Jews. America and Britain give them sanctuary. Now it turns out that this might offer the Allies a hope of salvation. And at once you come howling to Niels begging him to persuade them to give it up. Bohr Margrethe, my love, perhaps we should try to express ourselves a little more temperately. Margrethe But the gall of it! The sheer, breathtaking gall of it! Bohr Bold skiing, I have to
Heisenberg I mean the Copenhagen Interpretation. The Copenhagen Interpretation works. However we got there, by whatever combination of high principles and low calculation, of most painfully hard thought and most painfully childish tears, it works. It goes on working. Margrethe Yes, and why did you both accept the Interpretation in the end? Was it really because you wanted to re-establish humanism? Bohr Of course not. It was because it was the only way to explain what the experimenters had
in the small hours. Bohr But the critical mass. You gave him a figure. What was the figure you gave him? Heisenberg I forget. Bohr Heisenberg … Heisenberg It’s all on the record. You can see for yourself. Bohr The figure for the Hiroshima bomb … Heisenberg Was fifty kilograms. Bohr So that was the figure you gave Hahn? Fifty kilograms? Heisenberg I said about a ton. Bohr About a ton? A thousand kilograms? Heisenberg, I believe I am at last beginning to understand something. Heisenberg
Heisenberg And therefore how little material you’d need. Bohr They said slightly over half a kilogram. Heisenberg About the size of a tennis ball. Bohr They were wrong, of course. Heisenberg They were a hundred times under. Bohr Which made it seem a hundred times more imaginable than it actually was. Heisenberg Whereas I left it seeming twenty times less imaginable. Bohr So all your agonising in Copenhagen about plutonium was beside the point. You could have done it without ever building
suggested without further explanation a critical mass of between 10 and 100 kg. And at the crucial meeting with Speer at Harnack House in June 1942, when Field Marshal Milch asked him how large an atomic bomb would have to be to destroy a city, Heisenberg replied, or so he said in his interview with Irving, that it, or at any rate its ‘essentially active part’, would have to be ‘about the size of a pineapple.’ In the end, though, I believe that the crucial piece of evidence lies elsewhere, in a