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NIELSEN, JENS RUD (1894–1979).

A physicist, Jens Rud Nielsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on September 22, 1894. He earned a master's degree at the University of Copenhagen in 1919; while there he was a student of Niels Bohr, professor of theoretical physics and soon-to-be winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1922 Nielsen moved to California to study under another Nobelist, Robert Millikan, earning one of the first Ph.D.'s granted by the newly established California Institute of Technology. A year of teaching at Humboldt State College in Arcata, California, convinced Nielsen that he wanted to work with graduate students at a research university. At the same time, Homer Dodge, head of the University of Oklahoma Physics Department, was seeking someone well versed in the newest trends in theoretical physics. In the fall of 1924 Nielsen agreed to come to Norman at a salary of $2,400. From the beginning he was recognized across the campus as a brilliant addition to the university's scientific community. In 1931 he became the first faculty member to win a Guggenheim fellowship, which he used to return to Copenhagen for further study with Bohr. The two became close friends, and in 1937 and in 1957 Nielsen arranged for Bohr to visit the University of Oklahoma.

Nielsen's earliest work was on the photoelectric effect, but he soon became interested in, and an authority on, the structure of molecules as revealed by Raman spectroscopy. Under relatively primitive conditions on the Norman campus, Nielsen determinedly converted heating tunnels and underused bathrooms into laboratory space. He taught and carried on his research for forty-one years. While he was a member of the faculty, half of those earning the Ph.D. in physics at the university were his students. The Physics Department's historian, Richard Fowler, who thought Nielsen possessed "a noble mind," observed that Nielsen's tenure at the University of Oklahoma "coincided with the evolution of that institution from a large four-year college to a comprehensive graduate institution and community of research scholars. There is little doubt that his example and his strength of personality played a major role in this transition."During World War II Nielsen led a much-praised effort, sponsored by the U. S. Navy, to produce an infrared spectrograph for analyzing materials needed in the petroleum and chemical industries.

Nielsen and his wife, Gertrude, were for many years at the heart of many aspects campus social, political, and broadly intellectual life. He was the chief organizer of the university's Research Institute and one of the first four recipients of the George Lynn Cross Professorship for outstanding research. At his retirement in 1965 the physics building was named Nielsen Hall in his honor, and in 1971 he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Nielsen spent the years after his retirement in preparing for publication the first four volumes of the memoirs of his teacher and friend Niels Bohr. He was at work on the fifth volume when he died, at the age of eighty-four, on April 20, 1979.

David W. Levy



Richard G. Fowler, "Jens Rud Nielsen," Physics Today 32 (July 1979).

Kerry Magruder, "Physics Centennial #6: Tributes to Jens Rud Nielsen," History of Science Collection, University of Oklahoma, accessed on 10 October 2015 at http://ouhos.org/2010/09/07/physics-centennial-6-tributes-to-nielsen/.

Jens Rud Nielsen, "Memories of a Great Man [Nielsen's memories of Niels Bohr]," Sooner Magazine 35 (May-June, 1963).

"Jens Rud Nielsen," Personnel File, Office of the Provost, Evans Hall, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
David W. Levy, “Nielsen, Jens Rud,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=NI012.

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