Niels Bohr: Expertise is Achieved Through Failure

"An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field."

Niels Bohr (1885-1962) was a Danish physicist and philosopher who was awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum theory. Bohr developed his own model of the atom in which he proposed electron traits that are still considered valid today. He founded the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen (now known as the Niels Bohr Institute) to promote scientific research. During the 1930s and '40s he played an instrumental role in assisting refugees from Nazism, escaping himself to Sweden after Adolf Hitler invaded Denmark.


A veritable expert in the fields of physics and scientific ethics, the following quote conveys Bohr's sense that achievement is innately tied to failure.

"An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field."

Source: As quoted by Edward Teller, in Dr. Edward Teller's Magnificent Obsession by Robert Coughlan, in LIFE magazine (6 September 1954), p. 62 via Wikiquote

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