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Figuring how a supernova happens


Gerald Brown suggests solving the problem of supernova
Hans Bethe Scientist
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In the '70s I acquired the habit of going for one semester at a time to Copenhagen to the Niels Bohr Institute and to NORDITA, the Northern Collaboration in Atomic Physics. One person was there who previously had been Peierls's main collaborator, namely Gerald Brown, an American who after many years left Birmingham and went to Copenhagen to join this NORDITA. So very soon we got... became friends and when I came to Copenhagen in '78, Gerald Brown said 'Now, this time we'll solve the problem of the supernova.' He had already done some work on this and the main problem... well, there were two problems. One is: how does the collapse happen in detail; and secondly: how does the star then manage to expel all its outside? It would be entirely conceivable that the whole star would collapse into one black hole. But then in that case we wouldn't observe 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: Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, NORDITA, Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics, Gerald Brown

Duration: 2 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008