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Hans Bethe winning the Nobel Prize


The BET theory
Edward Teller Scientist
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In Washington, of course, I continued what I like to do. Many particular papers; I might mention only one because it became rather practical - the BET paper, Brunauer, Emmet, Teller - discussing the very simple problem of absorption of whatever, molecules, on a plain surface. That was well understood in the case of a single layer absorption. But my friends in Washington had worked on absorptions where obviously many layers were absorbed and had fantasies about molecular forces that reached out over many layers. And I knew that such a thing was nonsense. And I've told my friends, Brunauer and Emmet, that it is nonsense. And my- their answer was- Well, here are our facts and we will consider that as a proof of distant forces, unless you can offer us something better. So under compulsion I said- Very simple, we have a monolayer absorption and that layer then acts as the new surface to absorb the next layer and that absorbs the next layer. And therefore, once you have ten layers you are almost as good as having a liquid on which you condense one more layer. And your polylayer absorption must therefore have a lot in common with the formation of liquids. That was the origin of the BET Theory which has one very particular property. Because it connects the absorption with other known quantities, like the vapor pressure, the equilibrium between gas and liquid, it was possible from that theory to get the best way how to determine the area of the absorbing layers.

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, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008