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Karl Giberson

Mr. Uncertainty: Part1: The battle over Heisenberg.

Click here for Part 2 of this article.

Now we're all dead and gone, yes, and there are only two things the world remembers about me. One is the uncertainty principle, and the other is my mysterious visit to Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in 1941. Everyone understands uncertainty, or thinks he does. No one understands my trip to Copenhagen.

The Spy

Moe Berg was a third string catcher for the Boston Red Sox, on the same team as Ted Williams. He was sophisticated, especially for a professional athlete, having been educated at Princeton; he spoke several languages and was something of a ladies' man. During World War II he spied for the Allies. His life makes for quite an adventure, and several biographies of Berg (both for adult readers and for juveniles) have been published in the last five years alone, in addition to earlier ones. At the present time George Clooney is reportedly in conversation with Warner Brothers about adapting one of these biographies2 for the big screen. Clooney will play Berg.

One of the first biographies of Berg was Moe Berg: Athlete, Scholar, Spy, originally published in 1974, and rereleased in 1996.3 A copy of the original book, which contained a number of pictures of Berg, was sent to the great German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who had headed up Hitler's nuclear physics program during the war. An astonished Heisenberg recognized Berg in the photos as a "Swiss acquaintance who had accompanied him to the hotel, who had listened so attentively in the first row during his lecture" and had later asked "such intelligent and interested questions."4

It turns out that Berg was not Swiss, and his interest in what Heisenberg had to say was rather sinister. The catcher-turned-spy sat in the front row of that small lecture hall in neutral Switzerland with a loaded pistol in his pocket under orders to shoot Heisenberg, if the infamous Nobel Prize-winning physicist had said anything that indicated he was making progress on building a bomb for Hitler. Satisfied that ...

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