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I did not let Werner Heisenberg sleep


Understanding Group Theory with Heisenberg
Edward Teller Scientist
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What Wigner has done was to find out the results, the consequences of the symmetry in the case of atoms and molecules. Hydrogen atom. One might guess the electron is somehow spherically distributed around the atom. And so it was, incidentally, in one particular state, the lower state of the hydrogen atom. But there were cases, most cases, where the symmetry was changed by the way the electron moved. And that had consequences for the behavior of the quantum states of the hydrogen atom, or any atom of the kind- any other atom of the kind. It has a consequence that the same energy, several ways belonged in which the electron could moved- could move. Indeed, by several we would mean infinitely many. If the electron would move on an ellipse around the- around the nucleus. No, you see, in classical theory, the ellipse could be in every direction, infinitely many states of the same energy. In quantum mechanics, there were only a few. And these few had to be in- interrelated in a very specific way which the mathematicians had already saw - had already studied - decades earlier. And this kind of a study was called group theory. I was asked to report on it. I cannot claim that I reported on it with full understanding. I can claim that I understood some of it. And I can say that when I reported on my semi-understanding, and that the questions that Heisenberg asked made me understand it very much better. It was a nice experience.

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, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008