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CF Powell and the pi meson

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Thinking about mesons at the Shelter Island Conference
Hans Bethe Scientist
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There was a report by Rossi who was in contact with Italian physicists. Italian... three Italian physicists working under quite difficult conditions during the German occupation had managed to investigate the interaction of cosmic ray mesons with atomic nuclei. And they found to their great surprise that negative cosmic ray mesons were not captured by the nucleus, and by all theoretical expectation they should have been because the meson had been invented in order to... to explain the very strong interaction inside the nucleus. Well... so this was a puzzle which took up quite some time at the Shelter Island conference, and several people had ideas about it, most of them silly. The good idea came from Marshak, my former student and now a professor at Rochester. Marshak said 'Well, maybe there are two mesons. Maybe there's a cosmic ray meson, and there is another which makes the nuclear forces and maybe the Yukawa meson is produced when cosmic rays come in to the atmosphere and hit a nucleus, they make a Yukawa meson and maybe that then decays into the meson which we actually see.' That was an ingenious idea, and a little later Marshak and I jointly wrote a paper about it.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

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: Shelter Island conference, Bruno Rossi, Robert Marshak

Duration: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008