The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as "the H-bomb's midwife". He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
I probably won't be working on many problems any more, and I'm not a prophet. I cannot tell what will happen to physics. Of course the most exciting thing to me is the high energy physics; will the Standard Model hold up? Are we going to get more evidence on the quark gluon plasma which tells us how... what goes on inside the nucleus? And I think that there are good... good hopes that the high energy accelerator at CERN will indeed give us more insight into the fundamental interactions of the strong force. I think that the... the RHIAC, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Accelerator at Brookhaven will give us new insights into the quark gluon plasma which occurs at high energy and high density. The idea there is to make two heavy nuclei, like say, two nuclei of lead, collide and penetrate each other at high energy per nucleon. That's all very exciting and I wish I had more years to live - I probably won't - and this is one line of fundamental physics which surely will be very productive. But one shouldn't forget other lines. One should not forget condensed matter physics which has practical applications, and we have had surprises in condensed matter physics, such as the high temperature superconductivity which probably will have practical applications in long distance transmission of electric currents, and which is a very exciting phenomenon in itself. I don't believe it has been satisfactorily explained by condensed matter physicists and there are more down to earth problems in condensed matter physics which are related to the properties of materials and so on. So there is lots to be done in physics. There is more to be done in chemistry, and especially in biochemistry which is only... has only begun to unfold. So fundamental science has a big future.
Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).
CERN, RHIAC, Relativistic Heavy Ion Accelerator, Brookhaven National Laboratory