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Understanding Group Theory with Heisenberg


Heisenberg and playing ping-pong
Edward Teller Scientist
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I healed slowly. In the end I healed and barely able to walk, I did not go back to Munich. I did not like the Herr- Herr Geheimrat. Anyway, he was on a trip around the world. I went where I belonged, to Leipzig where there was a professor only a few years older than I - I don't know, I think maybe six years older than I - by the name of Werner Heisenberg, a very wonderful man. And it was obvious that he liked me. He liked me, perhaps when he asked me what I have read; I told him the various works, including my study in Group Theory, which he appreciated. I am pretty much convinced that in part he liked me because of two somewhat strange circumstances. I hardly could walk and I beat him in ping-pong. In fact, we had the ping-pong evenings on Tuesday, I was the only one who beat him in ping-pong. I might tell you that my glory was great but not permanent. Next year, Heisenberg went around the world in the ship, really practiced up on ping-pong and after that I could not beat him. But here, I can tell you, that my studies in the gymnasium in Hungary were not completely wasted. My eigh- eight years of Latin and four years of Greek, I don't think I ever could or will use again. But, outside the classroom, I learned to play ping-pong really well and that, I think, with Heisenberg, was the start of his appre- appreciation. He gave me a couple of jobs. I liked them both. One was to report, in his seminar, on group theory. I did not do it at that time but found out very fast that my friend whom I knew from way back in Hungary, Eugene Wigner, had studied the consequences of the symmetry of atoms and molecules.

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: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008