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Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs (December 29, 1911 in Rüsselsheim – January 28, 1988 in East Berlin) was a theoretical physicist born in Germany. He participated in the Manhattan Project, and was later convicted for providing, clandestinely, data relating to the development of the United States atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, during and after the Second World War.
Fuchs was an extremely competent scientist, being responsible for several theoretical calculations concerning the first fission weapons, as well as the initial models of the hydrogen bomb during his stay at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Judged for passing military secrets to an allied nation (still the USSR was considered an alidade of the US) was sentenced to 14 years in prison. After the sentence he returned to Germany, then the German Democratic Republic, where he continued working until his death. He received the Order of the Friendship of the Peoples from the USSR.
Klaus Fuchs was born in Rüsselsheim, Germany, the third of four children of Lutheran pastor Emil Fuchs and his wife Else Wagner. Fuchs’s father was a professor of theology at the University of Leipzig.
He attended the University of Leipzig and the University of Kiel, where he became a political activist and joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany and, in 1932, the Communist Party of Germany. In 1933, after a meeting with the recently installed Nazis, he left for France, and later, through the use of family connections, he traveled to Bristol, England. He obtained his PhD in Physics from the University of Bristol in 1937, studying under the tutelage of Nevill Mott, and obtained a Doctorate in Science from the University of Edinburgh, under the tutelage of Max Born. An article of his on quantum mechanics appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 1936, contributing to his obtaining a teaching position in Edinburgh in 1937.
Work in time of war and espionage
At the start of World War II, German citizens in Britain were interned, and Fuchs was placed in a field on the Isle of Man, and was subsequently transferred to Quebec, Canada, from June to December 1940. However, , Professor Born intervened on behalf of Fuchs, causing them to release him.
Early in 1941, Fuchs returned to Edinburgh, where Rudolf Peierls proposed to work on the “Tube Alloys” program – the British nuclear weapons research project. A message from the GRU of London of August 10, 1941 is a reference of the GRU reestablishing contact with Fuchs. Despite restrictions imposed in times of war, he was granted British citizenship in 1942. Fuchs would later testify that, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, he began to transmit military secrets to the USSR, believing that the Soviets they had the right to know about what the United Kingdom, and subsequently the United States, were working in secret (The dates on which Fuchs began to pass information are inconsistent and vary greatly according to the sources of information). Fuchs would also testify that he had contacted an old friend in the German Communist Party, who put him in touch with someone at the Soviet embassy in Britain.
Espionage in the US
At the end of 1943 Fuchs was transferred along with Peierls to Columbia University, in New York, to work on the Manhattan Project. While Fuchs was an accessory from the GRU in Britain, his control was transferred to the NKGB when he moved to New York. From August of 1944 Fuchs worked in the Division of Theoretical Physics of the National Laboratory of Los Alamos, New Mexico under the orders of Hans Bethe. His main area of competence was the implosion problem of the fissile core of the plutonium bomb, and on one occasion he was given a calculation job that Edward Teller rejected due to lack of interest. He was the author of several techniques for calculating the amount of energy in a fissile assembly (such as the still-used Fuchs-Nordheim method). Then, Fuchs also registered a patent with John von Neumann describing a method to initiate fusion in a thermonuclear weapon with an implosion trigger. He was one of the many Los Alamos scientists present at the Trinity Test. At Los Alamos, Fuchs lent his car numerous times to Richard Feynman, who used the vehicle to visit his dying wife at a sanatorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
From the autumn of 1947 to May 1949, Fuchs gave Alexandre Feklisov, his liaison officer, the main theoretical outline to create a hydrogen bomb and the initial drafts for its development, according to the state in which it was located. project worked in England and the United States in 1948 and, in addition, supplied the results of the plutonium and uranium bomb tests carried out in Eniwetok Atoll. Fuchs met with Feklisov six times.
Fuchs provided key data on Uranium production 235. He revealed that North American production was one hundred kilograms of U-235 and twenty kilograms of plutonium per month. With these data, the Soviet Union was able to calculate the number of atomic bombs owned by the United States and conclude that the United States was not prepared for a nuclear war towards the end of the 1940s and even in the early 1950s. The information given by Fuchs to the Soviet intelligence coincided with the reports provided by Donald Duart Maclean from Washington. From this information, the Soviet Union knew that the United States did not have enough nuclear weapons to confront the Berlin blockade and the victory of the Communists in China at the same time.
Fuchs later testified that he had provided detailed information about the project to the Soviet Union through a messenger, Harry Gold (whom he knew as “Raymond”), in 1945 and more information about the hydrogen bomb between 1946 and 1947. Fuchs attended in 1947 a conference of the Committee on Combined Politics, a committee created to facilitate the exchange of atomic secrets between the highest levels of the government of the United States, Great Britain and Canada; Donald Maclean also attended as British co-secretary of the committee.
In 1946, when Fuchs returned to England and the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, he was confronted by intelligence officers as a result of the deciphering of Soviet codes known as the VENONA project. Under prolonged interrogation by the MI-5 officer, William Skardon, Fuchs confessed in January 1950. In addition, he told interrogators that the KGB obtained an agent in Berkeley, California, who informed the Soviet Union about the investigation of the electromagnetic separation of Uranium-235 in 1942 or earlier. He was prosecuted by Hartley Shawcross and convicted on March 1, 1950, the next day he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison, the maximum possible for passing military secrets to an allied nation. A week after the verdict, on March 7, the Soviet Union issued a concise statement denying that Fuchs had served as a Soviet spy.
Fuchs’s statements to the British and American intelligence agencies were used in the involvement of Harry Gold, a key witness in the trials of David Greenglass and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the United States.
Last years in East Germany
After his confession, Fuchs was sentenced to fourteen years in prison, and his British citizenship was taken away from him, in December 1950. It is often believed that Fuchs confessed to avoid the death penalty, however, according to at least one of his Interrogators, Fuchs supposed that by confessing he could go back to work at Harwell. Fuchs was released on June 23, 1959, after serving nine years and four months of his sentence in the Wakefield prison. He was allowed to emigrate to Dresden, then in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). He left Britain almost immediately and lived in Dresden with his father and a nephew. The same year, he married a friend from his student years, Margarete Keilson.
In East Germany, Fuchs continued his scientific career, achieving considerable prominence. In 1963 he took a position at the Technical University of Dresden. He was elected to the presidency of the Academy of Natural Sciences and the central committee of the Socialist Party, then appointed deputy director of the Nuclear Research Institute in Rossendorf, where he worked until his retirement in 1979. Since 1984 he was director of the Scientific Research Council of Energy and Fundamentals of Microelectronics. He published more than 100 scientific articles during this time, and was one of the most outstanding scientists in East Germany. He received the Order of Merit of the Fatherland and the Order of Karl Marx. He died in 1988 in East Berlin.
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