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Writing an article for Handbuch der Physik


Working on level splitting in atoms with the Fermi atom
Hans Bethe Scientist
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I was work... continuing to work on the level splitting in crystals and wanted to know now how rare earth atoms actually looked, and so I used the Fermi Atom. That is Fermi had applied his... his statistics to obtain the simple picture of an atom which gave the charge distribution of the electrons, and so I used that for the typical rare earth and calculated the wave functions of electrons in that potential. And I was very proud when Fermi then told me 'You should put that in to my Thesaurus piarum; the treasury of wave functions', and I don't know whether that was preserved, but anyway there it was. I never did anything. And then we did the... this joint paper about various approaches to relativistic collision theory and I wrote a paper on... on the stopping of electrons... of relativistic electrons, which Fermi then later on modified. Then taking into account that in a solid, or in any condensed material there is a dielectric constant, and you have to take that into account, and that reduces the stopping power somewhat.

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: Thesaurus piarum, Enrico Fermi

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008