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Studying quantum field theory


Heitler: quantum theory of radiation
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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The book I read during that year in London was Heitler, Quantum Theory of Radiation, that was the main thing. That was an excellent book. It described quantum electrodynamics as it existed in the 1930s with all the loose ends and unsolved problems. So it was a book that taught you everything that had been done in the '30s and made it absolutely clear that there was still a mess to be cleaned up, so it was a very good start for me to read this Heitler book. That's the one I remember the best. And it showed you the sorts of things which could be calculated. It had in it, amongst other things, Hans Bethe's calculation of the pair production which is a marvellous calculation. It had the classical, quantum and electrodynamics all there, and of course it was an introduction to the style of Hans Bethe - a lot of the stuff in Heitler's book, actually, is Bethe's work.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: London, Quantum Theory of Radiation, 1930s, Walter Heitler, Hans Bethe

Duration: 1 minute

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008