Pascual Jordan: Science and Politics in Three Germanies

Pascual Jordan: Science and Politics in Three Germanies

Ryan Dahn

Ryan Dahn's research focused on German physicist Pascual Jordan’s (1902–1980) role as a scientist, public intellectual, and political actor in three radically different Germanies: the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the postwar Federal Republic. Jordan was one of the Wunderkinder of the quantum revolution: at only age 24, he coauthored the Dreimännerarbeit (three-man paper) in collaboration with Werner Heisenberg and Max Born, which outlined the fundamentals of quantum theory as we know them today. This breakthrough marked Jordan as one of the leading lights of his generation—he went on to collaborate with Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and James Franck, among others. But Jordan’s scientific achievements have always been overshadowed by his infamous 1933 decision to join the Nazi Party, which alienated him among friends and colleagues.

After the war, Jordan played a crucial role in the reconstruction of West German physics as a professor at the University of Hamburg, where he established an influential seminar on general relativity. At the same time he evolved into a figure of some influence in Konrad Adenauer’s Christian Democratic Union, gaining influence largely on the basis of his scientific credentials. Yet despite the considerable amount of public and scholarly attention given to the quantum revolution, Heisenberg and “Nazi science,” much of Jordan’s life and his motivations remain mysterious. By using new source material—and by placing a particular emphasis on Jordan’s long postwar career—Ryan Dahn's project presented a fuller picture of Jordan's life as a scientist, public intellectual, and politician.