Nathan Rosen

We mark 26 years since the passing of Research Professor Nathan Rosen.

Research Professor Nathan Rosen OBM (March 22 1909 - December 18 1995), founder of the Technion’s Physics Department, arrived in Israel after having notched up an impressive scientific career. At the age of only 22, Rosen had already published two important papers, one of which predicted the existence of the neutron, and the other presenting a quantum mechanical calculation of the structure of the hydrogen. Just four years later, at the age of 26, in collaboration with Albert Einstein and Boris Podolsky, he authored the paper on the EPR paradox, among the most highly cited papers in the history of science. Einstein and Rosen subsequently developed the concept now known as the “Einstein-Rosen bridge”, or, in the popular and cinematic jargon, the “wormhole”. The wormhole theory postulates that a significant space-time distortion could create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe.

The EPR paper, named after its three authors (Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen), addressed what the three perceived as flaws in quantum theory. To its title, “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?", they replied in the negative.One of the arguments put forward in the historical article was that according to quantum theory, manipulation of one particle will have an instantaneous effect on another particle, regardless of the distance between them, without physical interaction or the transfer of information. As such, Einstein argued that this was “spooky action at a distance”, which is unacceptable; and if the theory permits the impossible – it is flawed. The response of their colleague Niels Bohr, who said that that same “action at a distance” is possible because it is not based on a “mechanical” effect, but on the influence on the logical conditions that define the possible types of future behavior of the system, was countered by Einstein’s characterization of Bohr as a “Talmudic philosopher”.

It was only three decades later, in 1962, that Irish physicist John Bell demonstrated that the Einstein-Bohr debate could be decided empirically, and experiments conducted in the next few years indicated that “action at a distance” indeed exists between entangled particles.

According to Prof. Yosi Avron, former Dean of the Physics Department at the Technion, “The EPR paradox led to a profound revolution in physics, which touched on two points that pained Einstein – the possibility that there is no objective reality, and that there is randomness in physics. On the former, today we understand that whereas classical physics only discovers phenomena in the world, quantum physics does not discover phenomena, but deals with the preparation of new states in the system. Quantum mechanics is like a tree of possibilities, and every occurrence that takes place in it obliterates all other parallel possibilities. We know that America was there before it was discovered, but that is an analogy to classical physics; in quantum physics, America did not exist before its discovery.

“As for the latter subject: deciding between two quantum possibilities is not a matter of determinism but of randomness, and this idea bothered Einstein, who was a determinist, and that is why he said that ‘God (or nature) does not play dice’, or in other words, random occurrences are simply not possible.”

Nathan Rosen was born in Brooklyn on March 22, 1909, two years after his parents fled pogrom-plagued Russia. When he was 11 his father died, and the family moved to Boston. At the age of only 25, armed with a doctoral degree, he began working at Princeton, where he hoped to meet the renowned Albert Einstein. He later said in an interview with Ma’ariv (March 5, 1954), “Like every scientist, it was also my dream to meet Einstein, even if only for a few minutes. Although we both worked in the same institute (Princeton) I kept putting off the meeting, day after day, until I worked up the courage and went to his office. He received me with warmhearted friendliness, as if we were old acquaintances. The next day he met me in the courtyard and said to me, ‘Young man, would you agree to work with me?’ I was bowled over with joy, and to this very day I don’t know why I merited the privilege of his taking a liking to me.”

And so, reality proved more benevolent than the modest dream, and Dr. Rosen became Einstein’s assistant at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where the EPR paper came to fruition.

But despite the realization of his dream and his professional success notwithstanding, Rosen became disenchanted with capitalist America and decided to move to Russia, which he perceived as preferable, both politically and morally. With Einstein’s encouragement, Rosen got a job at Kiev University, from where he wrote to his teacher and mentor: “Here I feel that I am needed, that I am important, and to earn my daily bread I do not need the support of small people in high positions.”

Joe, Nathan and Hannah’s elder son, was born in Kiev in 1937. Two years later, their second son, David, was born.

However, within a short time Rosen recognized that his dreams of the Soviet world were shattering on the rocks of reality. He strongly felt the limitations imposed by the regime on free thought. “Everyone [there] was interested in Einstein’s theories, but then someone came along and said that the doctrine opposed dialectical materialism, and the atmosphere started to become a little constricted.” As a result, and after many of his colleagues in Kiev were arrested by the Communist regime, he was forced to return to the United States, where he worked at MIT and the University of North Carolina.

In 1953 Professor Rosen responded to a call from then-President of the Technion, Major (Res.) Yaakov Dori, and immigrated to Israel to join the Technion staff. Here, he played a key role in turning the Technion from a “technical school” into a world-renowned technological and scientific institute. He was dean of the Graduate School, dean of the Faculty of Science, head of the Physics Department, and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering. In 1977 he was appointed research professor – the highest academic rank – at the Technion.

Professor Rosen also contributed greatly outside the Technion circles. He was among the founders of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Physical Society of Israel and the International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation. To help further the development of Ben-Gurion University, he served as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering Sciences there from 1969 to 1971. At the Technion, he supervised many students, including Professor Asher Peres, another foundational pillar of the Technion Physics Department. Professor Rosen won numerous awards, including the Weizmann Prize for Exact Sciences (1968), the Michael Landau Prize (1975), and an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University.

Nathan Rosen passed away on December 18, 1995. According to his colleagues, he worked until his final days. He kept in touch with Einstein for many years after immigrating to Israel, and in the March 5, 1954 interview with Ma’ariv, he said that Einstein had told him that, “I would happily immigrate to Israel if I weren’t so old” and that, “This Technion is a wonder. And the State of Israel also has an extraordinary future, a great future!”


Courtesy of Technion spokesperson