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Kurt Diebner (1905-1964)

Werner Heisenberg's rival physicist and Rainer Karlsch's candidate for the developer of a successful Nazi atom bomb, Diebner received his doctorate at Halle in 1931 with a dissertation on ionization of alpha rays. After having taught at his alma mater for three years, he worked at the German Bureau of Standards and the Army Weapons Bureau. He oversaw German atomic research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute from 1939-42, and he was responsible for the disposition of the labs of Frédéric Joliot when Paris fell and of the labs at the Bohr Institute after the taking of Copenhagen. (The latter were allowed to remain under Danish control.) Diebner proposed using latticed cubes of uranium with heavy water as a moderator as a model for an atomic device; this arrangement achieved some success in generating chain reactions but is thought to have produced too few neutrons to go critical. He was among the scientists who realized that Hans Bethe's work on hydrogen reactions in the stars had implications for those on earth and directed Germany's fusion experiments during the war. After his internment at Farm Hall, Diebner, says Paul Lawrence Rose, briefly considered becoming a British citizen. However, he returned to Hamburg in 1948, where he, with others, established the Society for Nuclear Ship Propulsion; he spent the rest of his life working on the problems of fueling commercial ships with nuclear power.

Karen Rae Keck

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