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Subatomic phenomena; quarks and gluons


Thoughts on the development of 20th century physics
Hans Bethe Scientist
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It has been a wonderful century and except for the first quarter I have been able to contribute to physics in this century. I came in at a very exciting and promising time when... when quantum theory was formulated. One of the remarkable things is that the fundamental ideas of quantum theory as formulated by Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Pauli and Dirac, the fundamental quantum theory is unchanged. It's the same today as it was in 1926, and I think this is sort of a miracle. It has been as durable as Newton's theory of mechanics and... and as Einstein's theory of relativity. Then another thing is that together with this new ability of the fundamental theory, there have gone so many discoveries of new phenomena, predicted by the radioactivity which was discovered just about a hundred years ago. Going through one of... the experiments and then going to the development, mostly since 1933, of accelerators, nuclear reactions being made possible by accelerators, going first into the millions of electron volts and more recently into the billions of electron volts, and 100 billions of electron volts. It was a spectacular experimental development and it is remarkable that quantum mechanics invented in 1926, still is correct. We have no experiment which is in conflict with quantum mechanics.

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: Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac

Duration: 2 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008