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Wave-particle duality sparked a fascination with physics


Working on Set Theory from first principles
Edward Teller Scientist
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Well, I studied chemistry as I was supposed to but I cheated, I really cheated - I studied mathematics as well and with great pleasure. I remember one vacation which I spent at home in Budapest by thinking about one set of problems in mathematics, which I love so much that I would like to mention it. I did not discover anything that people would not know but I essentially reconstructed the essential parts of it from the simple principles. The subject is called Set Theory. And set theory becomes interesting when you do not compare a set of five objects with another set of five objects but if you compare a set of infinitely many objects with another set and the remarkable result is that there are different kinds of infinity. I think I should tell you, without a proof, the kind of thing set theory is made of. Question: are there more points on a line than there are integers? The answer turns out to be yes - not very surprising. Second question: are there more points on a line than the number of fractions which can be written as one integer over another integer. The answer is again, yes. Continuous infinity, the infinity in a continuum of points, is greater. And these ideas can be defined precisely and a group of theorems can be deduced, which is what I dug into in one of the three weeks period that I was at home.

The late Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller helped to develop the atomic bomb and provided the theoretical framework for the hydrogen bomb. During his long and sometimes controversial career he was a staunch advocate of nuclear power and also of a strong defence policy, calling for the development of advanced thermonuclear weapons.

Listeners: John H. Nuckolls

John H. Nuckolls was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1988 to 1994. He joined the Laboratory in 1955, 3 years after its establishment, with a masters degree in physics from Columbia. He rose to become the Laboratory's Associate Director for Physics before his appointment as Director in 1988.

Nuckolls, a laser fusion and nuclear weapons physicist, helped pioneer the use of computers to understand and simulate physics phenomena at extremes of temperature, density and short time scales. He is internationally recognised for his work in the development and control of nuclear explosions and as a pioneer in the development of laser fusion.

Duration: 2 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008