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More on supernovae, the gain point


James Wilson’s theory of supernovae
Hans Bethe Scientist
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We had at our disposal some calculations under the leadership of James Wilson at Livermore National Laboratory, near San Francisco, and the calculations which he did at that time seemed to confirm our idea that indeed the rebound would expel the material. Unfortunately, a little bit later he... Wilson found out that he had been wrong, that he had put some wrong equation of state into his calculations and so the computer could do nothing but give him nonsense. So ever since then, since '78, Gerald Brown and I have been engaged in trying to figure out just how does the supernova happen, how does this collapse of the star manage to expel the outside? Well, the main... the clue to understanding this was again given by Jim Wilson. He said 'After all, you have assembled a tremendous amount of energy in this collapsed material,' the quasi-neutron star, it's not a neutron star yet, 'it has an enormous amount of excess energy which came from the gravitational collapse - that energy has to get out and the only way to get out is by neutrinos.' We knew that, that is Brown and I, but it was Wilson who said 'Now, couldn't those neutrinos expel the matter outside?' And he had the idea that indeed the matter surrounding this collapsed mass was sufficiently dense that even neutrinos could be partially stopped and could give much of their energy to the matter out there. So this is the Jim Wilson theory of the supernova.

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: Livermore National Laboratory, San Francisco, James Wilson, Gerald Brown

Duration: 3 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008