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Research on the binding of nuclear matter


Studying nuclear matter with Jeffrey Goldstone
Hans Bethe Scientist
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I decided to concentrate on nuclear matter which means the limit of what nuclei would look like if there were no electric force inside the nucleus, if you had only the nuclear forces. In that case you could have infinitely big nuclei and that would make the theory very much simpler. I had nice starting point, a theory by Brueckner which concerned just nuclear matter, and the trick of that theory was that inside the nucleus, each nucleon had its own energy and the energy of individual nucleons could be calculated in a consistent manner - consistent with the calculation of the nucleus as a whole. I went into this theory and first simplified it greatly and then together with Goldstone, one of my graduate students in Cambridge, was able to solve one problem in that theory, namely what happens when there is a very strong repulsion between two nucleons at [a] very short distance. And such repulsion was in fact observed experimentally in Berkeley when they investigated the scattering of protons by protons at hundreds of millions of electron volts. And what Goldstone and I did was to investigate what such a strong repulsion would do to the wave function of a couple of nucleons interacting with each other. And this was very satisfactory and gave the basis of treating nuclear matter in general. Goldstone then went on to... to make a very fundamental contribution to the theory of elementary particles, finding that in a field theory you could create an extra particle which you don't put into the theory, and it is now believed that the pi meson is of this type. I had another very superior graduate student in Cambridge, both of them assigned to me by Nevill Mott who was then the Chairman of the Physics Department at Cambridge, the name of the second one was Thouless. He did a thesis with me after I returned to Cornell, and in that thesis essentially gave a much more fundamental description of the way the Brueckner theory works and the way you... you treat nuclear matter. Thouless went on to become one of the leading theorists in condensed matter theory. I believe he's about as profound in this area as any other theorist.

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: Cambridge University, Berkeley, David Thouless, Jeffrey Goldstone, Nevill Mott, Keith Brueckner

Duration: 4 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008