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Permission to become a physicist


Wave-particle duality sparked a fascination with physics
Edward Teller Scientist
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Apart from learning physics- from learning mathematics and chemistry, I also attended lectures by a visiting professor. His name was Herman Mark. A wonderful chemist. A chemist who is responsible for a new field of chemistry - long chain molecules, non-repetitive chains, chains of all kinds, which, for instance, are quite essential in understanding biochemistry. He founded that science and he lectured to us. It was a small group, but it was a wonderful one. And he noticed my interest and fed it. This really managed to make in me a big change, for an interest in mathematics, for an interest in physics. He told us about a young French physicist, Louis de Broglie, who wrote a paper, the content was this- if divide matter, then some components of all matter, no matter what, what kind of component you always find, are electrons. Nothing new. As a chemist, I knew that all along. What de Broglie added was- these electrons can be described not only as particles but also as waves. And he showed how the velocity of these waves, the practically measured velocities, can be brought into relation with the velocity of particles. Now, I had known from conversations, early conversation, with people like, for instance, Eugene Wigner, that there was a strange situation in physics. Light - that has been known for many, many decades, more than a century, as electromagnetic waves, a process in the continuum - light also does behave sometimes as though it consisted of particles. One little aside that you might know, one of the truly great physicists, Einstein, who discovered relativity and got the Nobel Prize, did not get the Nobel Prize for relativity. In fact, when he was informed that he got it, he was told very explicitly- It is not for that problematical statement of relativity, it is for your concrete arguments that light can be considered as particles or waves.

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: 4 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008