Edward Condon

Edward Condon (1902-1974) was an American physicist and prominent figure in the field of quantum mechanics. Condon was born on March 2, 1902, in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He played a significant role in the development of atomic weapons during World War II and later became involved in the study of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP).

Condon began his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Physics in 1923. He later pursued graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), earning a Ph.D. in Physics in 1926 under the supervision of renowned physicist Robert A. Millikan. Condon’s doctoral research focused on the study of the photoelectric effect and Compton scattering, two critical aspects of quantum mechanics.

After completing his Ph.D., Condon worked as a research associate at Princeton University, where he collaborated with Eugene Wigner on quantum mechanics applications. In 1937, he accepted a position as a professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis. During World War II, Condon was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project at the secret laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he contributed to the development of the atomic bomb.

After the war, he became the director of the National Bureau of Standards from 1945 to 1951. In 1966, at the request of the United States Air Force, Condon led a scientific study of UFO sightings, known as the Condon Committee. The committee’s purpose was to determine whether UFO sightings posed any scientific interest or potential threat to national security. The University of Colorado hosted the project, and Condon served as the principal investigator. The Condon Report, officially titled “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects,” was published in 1968. The report concluded that UFO sightings could not be scientifically explained but that there was no evidence to suggest they were extraterrestrial in origin or a threat to national security.

As a result, the Air Force terminated Project Blue Book, its official investigation into UFO sightings.

  • Condon was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1944 for his pioneering work in quantum mechanics (source: National Academy of Sciences, NAS).
  • Condon co-authored the Franck-Condon principle with James Franck, which explains the intensity distribution of electronic transitions in molecules during spectroscopy (source: “Franck-Condon Principle and Its Application in Spectroscopy,” R. S. Mulliken, J. Chem. Phys. 36, 342, 1962).
  • He was a target of McCarthyism in the early 1950s due to his liberal political views and was accused of being a security risk, which led to his resignation as the director of the National Bureau of Standards (source: “Edward U. Condon: A Turbulent Life,” Physics Today, December 1991).

Edward Condon’s legacy is a complex one, with achievements in both the scientific and political realms. His work in quantum mechanics, particularly the Franck-Condon principle, is still widely recognized and utilized today. Furthermore, his role in the development of atomic weapons during World War II had a profound impact on the course of history.

The Franck-Condon principle is a fundamental concept in molecular spectroscopy, particularly in the context of electronic transitions between molecular energy states. It was developed by German physicist James Franck and American physicist Edward Condon in the 1920s. The principle helps to explain and predict the intensity distribution of spectral lines observed during electronic transitions in molecules.

The Franck-Condon principle is based on two primary assumptions:

  1. The electronic transition is much faster than the nuclear motion of the atoms within the molecule. This means that during the electronic transition, the nuclei can be considered to be essentially stationary or fixed in their positions.
  2. The transition probability is proportional to the overlap between the vibrational wavefunctions of the initial and final electronic states, which in turn depends on the relative positions of the nuclei.

Based on these assumptions, the Franck-Condon principle states that the most probable electronic transitions are those in which the nuclei maintain the same relative positions, or where the vibrational wavefunctions of the initial and final states have the greatest overlap. This concept is often represented graphically using potential energy curves for the two electronic states, with vertical lines connecting the vibrational levels representing the transitions.

In practical terms, the Franck-Condon principle helps to explain why certain electronic transitions in molecules are more intense than others in a given spectrum. By analyzing the intensity distribution of the spectral lines, it is possible to obtain valuable information about the molecular structure and dynamics, as well as the nature of the electronic transitions involved.

Condon’s involvement in the study of UFOs and UAPs, while controversial, ultimately shaped the direction of research in this area. The Condon Report’s conclusions led to the termination of Project Blue Book and significantly diminished government interest in UFO investigations, but it also sparked debate and discussion about the scientific approach to the study of these phenomena.

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