The Nobel Winning Scientist whose House had Unlimited Access to Beer

Alexandra Dantzer
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Niels Bohr is known worldwide as one of the most important scientists of the 20th century and for his groundbreaking discovery of the structure of atoms.

What is less known, however, is that he got a very unusual gift upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 1922: It was a house located next-door to the Carlsberg brewery.

This house not only had a handy location, but featured a tap that connected with the brewery via a pipe so that Bohr could have 24/7 access to free beer.

Niels Bohr

This gift was given to Bohr directly from the Danish brewery. It was not out of the blue — the relationship between the two giants went back many years.

The Carlsberg Foundation was established in 1876 by J.C. Jacobsen. It was a pioneering project to fund research in the field of natural science.

The executive board of the foundation was comprised of five members and chosen directly from the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. In still operates on the same principles now.

The Carlsberg Laboratory and in the foreground a statue of its founder, J.C. Jacobsen.

Bohr’s father, Christian, was a physiologist who was part of a group of scientists working for the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters that met every evening at the Bohr’s house to discuss their research.

One of the members was physicist Christian Christiansen, who later supervised young Niels Bohr during his studies at the University of Copenhagen.

He was a member of the executive board of the Carlsberg Foundation and helped Niels to get his initial post-doctorate funding for a research stay in Cambridge and Manchester, England.
Carlsberg saw a great potential in Niels Bohr’s work and continued to support him throughout his career.

1927 Solvay Conference in Brussels, October 1927. Niels Bohr is on the right in the middle row, next to Max Born.

When he was teaching at the College of Advanced Technology in Denmark, his salary was not enough to make ends meet so the Foundation took it upon themselves to help out the scientist in need.

On the website of the Foundation, it is stated: “Bohr received funding from the Carlsberg Foundation every year from his appointment as professor in 1916. In addition to the funding for special projects and expansions, he also received a regular annual grant for assistance and apparatus.”

Their relationship was mutually beneficial; Bohr needed support and Carlsberg wanted to promote science and use some of the findings in their intricate beer production process.

Bohr as a young man.

Carlsberg had a special laboratory dedicated to research in the field of beer production. According to Forbes: “In 1875 that laboratory was the first to isolate Saccharomyces pastorianus, the species of yeast used to brew pale lagers. The laboratory also made discoveries in protein chemistry that ended up having applications elsewhere.”

The house that Bohr received together with the Nobel Prize was located adjacent to the laboratory and brewery.

When he moved into the house Bohr continued to develop his findings, especially laying the groundworks for quantum mechanics. He came up with the concept of complementarity and discussed it with Albert Einstein — who was reluctant even to consider the possibility and rejected quantum mechanics altogether.

Albert Einstein in 1947.

One of the theories behind the reason for such a gift put forward by Forbes magazine is that maybe the house played an important role in Bohr coming up with his new theories. Einstein’s reluctance could be proof of logical, sober thinking that does not allow one to venture outside of the already established frameworks of thinking. According to Forbes: “There are several studies that indicate that being drunk can actually improve your creativity.”

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“That’s because it prevents your mind from being able to focus, so it more readily drifts from one connection to another, which can yield creative solutions to problems.”

Bohr probably did not have to thank beer for his findings, but more his own hard work and ingenuity. However, this speculation makes the gift given to Bohr even more interesting.