Gregory Breit
Григорий Альфредович Брейт-Шнайдер
Photograph of Gregory Breit
Gregory Alfredovich Breit-Schneider

(1899-06-14)June 14, 1899
DiedSeptember 13, 1981(1981-09-13) (aged 82)
Alma materJohns Hopkins University
Known for
AwardsFranklin Medal (1964)
National Medal of Science (1967)
Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics (1969)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorJoseph S. Ames
Notable studentsHubert Mack Thaxton

Gregory Breit (Russian: Григорий Альфредович Брейт-Шнайдер, romanizedGrigory Alfredovich Breit-Shneider; July 14, 1899 – September 13, 1981) was a Russian-born Jewish–American physicist[1] and professor at New York University (1929–1934), University of Wisconsin–Madison (1934–1947), Yale University (1947–1968), and University at Buffalo (1968–1973).[2] In 1921, he was Paul Ehrenfest's assistant in Leiden University.


After completing his Ph.D. at age 22, he was from 1923 to 1924 an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. In 1925, while at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Breit joined with Merle Tuve in using a pulsed radio transmitter to determine the height of the ionosphere, a technique important later in radar development.[3]

Together with Eugene Wigner, Breit gave a description of particle resonant states with the relativistic Breit–Wigner distribution in 1929, and with Edward Condon, he first described proton-proton dispersion. He is also credited with deriving the Breit equation.[4] The Breit frame of reference is named after him.[5] He was one of the first to notice the zitterbewegung (jittery motion) in the solutions of the Dirac equation.[6][7]

In 1934, together with John A. Wheeler, Breit described the Breit–Wheeler process. In 1939 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In April 1940, he proposed to the National Research Council that American scientists observe a policy of self-censorship due to the possibility of their work being used for military purposes by enemy powers in World War II.[8]

During the early stages of the war, Breit was chosen by Arthur Compton to supervise the early design of the first atomic bomb during an early phase in what would later become the Manhattan Project. Breit resigned his position in 1942, feeling that the work was going too slowly and that there had been security breaches on the project; his job went to Robert Oppenheimer, who was later appointed to scientific director of the entire project (Project Y).

In 2014, experimentalists proposed a way to validate an idea by Breit and John A. Wheeler that matter formation could be achieved by interacting light particles ("Breit–Wheeler process").[9]

Breit was associate editor of the Physical Review four times (1927-1929, 1939-1941, 1954-1956, and 1961-1963).

He was elected in 1923 a Fellow of the American Physical Society.[10] He was awarded the Franklin Medal in 1964. In 1967, he was awarded the National Medal of Science.[11]


  1. ^ Hull, Jr., McAllister H. (October 1983). "Obituary: Gregory Breit". Physics Today. 36 (10): 102–104. Bibcode:1983PhT....36j.102H. doi:10.1063/1.2915289. Archived from the original on 2013-09-29.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Gregory Breit, nndb biography
  3. ^ Breit, G.; Tuve, M. A. (1926-09-01). "A Test of the Existence of the Conducting Layer". Physical Review. American Physical Society (APS). 28 (3): 554–575. Bibcode:1926PhRv...28..554B. doi:10.1103/physrev.28.554. ISSN 0031-899X.
  4. ^ Bethe, H. A., and E. E. Salpeter; Quantum Mechanics of One- and Two-Electron Atoms, Plenum Press, 1977, p. 181
  5. ^ Hughes, Vernon; Iachello, Francesco; Kusnezov, Dimitri (2001). The Gregory Breit Centennial Symposium: Yale University, USA. Singapore River Edge, N.J: World Scientific. p. 9. ISBN 978-981-02-4553-5.
  6. ^ Breit, Gregory (1928). "An Interpretation of Dirac's Theory of the Electron". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 14 (7): 553–559. Bibcode:1928PNAS...14..553B. doi:10.1073/pnas.14.7.553. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 1085609. PMID 16587362.
  7. ^ Greiner, Walter (1995). Relativistic Quantum Mechanics. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-88082-7. ISBN 978-3-540-99535-7. S2CID 124404090.
  8. ^ Weart, Spencer R. (1976). "Scientists with a secret". Physics Today. AIP Publishing. 29 (2): 23–30. Bibcode:1976PhT....29b..23W. doi:10.1063/1.3023312. ISSN 0031-9228.
  9. ^ "Press release: Scientists discover how to turn light into matter after 80-year quest". Imperial College London. 19 May 2014.
  10. ^ "APS Fellow Archive". American Physical Society. (search on year=1923 and institution=University of Minnesota)
  11. ^ National Science Foundation - The President's National Medal of Science

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