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Dec. 5, 1901: Disney, Heisenberg ? Separated at Birth?

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Dec. 5, 1901: Disney, Heisenberg ? Separated at Birth?

1901: Animation pioneer Walt Disney and nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg are born. So, if you’ve ever thought the Uncertainty Principle was a bit goofy, you may be onto something.

Disney was born in Chicago, but spent much of his childhood on a Missouri farm. He sold his first sketches to neighbors at age 7. Rejected for military service because he was too young, he drove a Red Cross ambulance at the end of World War I. He covered the entire vehicle with cartoons.

Disney went to work after the war as an advertising artist in Kansas City and sold his first animated cartoons. He went to Hollywood and partnered with his brother Roy in 1923.

Mickey Mouse debuted to the public in the first sound-synch cartoon, Steamboat Willie in 1928.

Disney added Technicolor to animation in the 1932 Silly Symphonies cartoon Flowers and Trees. This first full-color animated cartoon — and first film of any kind to use the new three-color Technicolor process — won Disney his first of 32 Academy Awards. The 1937 cartoon The Old Mill was the first short subject to use the multiplane camera technique, with foreground, mid-ground and background on separate animation cels at different distances from the camera.

Disney’s pioneering continued. 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated musical feature — produced at the outrageous cost of $1.5 million ($23 million in today’s money).

In 1940, Fantasia combined some live action with animation, a process Disney had been working on since his Kansas City days. He used it extensively in The Three Caballeros, Song of the South and Mary Poppins.

Disney introduced time-lapse film photography to a wide public with films like The Living Desert and others in his award-winning True-Life Adventure series. Disney also produced pioneering TV programs in black-and-white and then color.

Southern California’s Disneyland, opened in 1955, led the shift from generic amusement parks to theme parks. It included a futuristic sci-fi Tomorrowland.

Disney conceived EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow near Florida’s Disney World, as a showcase for applying technology to improving people’s lives. It was under construction when Disney died Dec. 15, 1966, at age 65.

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Heisenberg was born the same day as Disney, in Würzburg, Germany. He began playing the piano early, mastering difficult pieces by age 13. He taught himself calculus and then worked on a farm for three summers to earn tuition to study physics at the University of Munich.

He studied with Arthur Sommerfield, Max Born and James Franck and earned a doctorate in 1923, the year Disney went to Hollywood. Heisenberg went to Copenhagen to study under Niels Bohr.

Heisenberg described a method for calculating the energy levels of “atomic oscillators” in a famous paper, “On Quantum Mechanical Interpretation of Kinematic and Mechanical Relations.” It brought him immediate fame.

A second paper, “On the Visualizable Content of Quantum Theoretical Kinematics and Mechanics,” explained his famous Uncertainty Principle: It is impossible to specify both the exact position and exact momentum of a subatomic particle at the same time.

For his contributions to quantum mechanics, Heisenberg received the Nobel Prize for Physics at age 31. It was 1932, the same year Disney won his first Oscar.

During World War II, while Disney was making military-training and civilian-propaganda films for the U.S. war effort, Heisenberg was director of Germany’s uranium project working on an atomic bomb. He was arrested in April 1945 and remained imprisoned in England until the summer of 1946.

After the war, Heisenberg worked on a unified theory of fundamental particles and on plasma physics and thermonuclear processes. He was director of the Max Planck Institute and headed a program to invite visiting scientists to work in Germany.

Heisenberg retired in 1970 and died Feb. 1, 1976, nine years after Disney.

Source: Norsknettskole, Nobel Lectures, Notable Biographies

Photos: Walt Disney (left) and Werner Heisenberg were born the same day, won their first big awards the same year and each contributed to his country’s war efforts. (Corbis)

This article first appeared on Dec. 5, 2008.


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