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Choosing to do theoretical physics


My father's scientific influence on me
Hans Bethe Scientist
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Christoph Matulla
Monday, 18 January 2016 01:23 PM
I just registered to express my gratitude to the people providing us with this superb web-page! thank...
I just registered to express my gratitude to the people providing us with this superb web-page! thank you very much! Chrisotph Matulla

My father had an influence on me in that he stimulated my curiosity about things in nature. He stimulated the idea that research in science was an interesting thing to do, and therefore it was quite obvious that I should study science. My father and I went very often for walks on Sunday, long walks, many hours, and then we talked about... mostly about scientific matters; sometimes also about daily events but mostly about science. So I think this was very important, but I didn't go into the subject, into his subject of physiology. Animals didn't interest me specially, but instead of that I went into the inanimate subject of physical science.

[Q] But you did go into his laboratory?

Well, I collaborated with my father on one investigation that he did with a postdoctoral student about the permeability of membranes which even today is a very important part of biology. And I had the advantage that I knew calculus and so I could make a theory of that permeation of the membrane. The theory had been made a hundred years earlier, but I reinvented 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: father, science

Duration: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008