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Studying nuclear matter with Jeffrey Goldstone


The Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper
Hans Bethe Scientist
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[Q] There is a paper in the post-war period that, I think, illuminates a facet of your character which one doesn't usually associate... and there is a paper on the origin of the chemical elements with colleagues Alpher and...

Oh, never mind that, it was wrong. Chemical elements...

[Q] No I meant more the authorship of the paper, rather than the paper itself.

Well that was just a cheap joke. The authors were Alpher, Bethe and Gamow, but it turned out that the theory was wrong. Chemical elements are not made in the Big Bang as Gamow had assumed, but they are made in big stars when they obtain temperatures well beyond the carbon formation temperature, then successively heavier elements are being built up. And once you get to really high temperatures, you get the development of neutrons, and neutrons are then added to... to nuclei such as iron, making the heavy elements, including the radioactive ones.

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: Alpher–Bethe–Gamow paper, Ralph Alpher, Hans Bethe, George Gamow

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008