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1926: a fortunate time to study with Arnold Sommerfeld


Choosing to do theoretical physics
Hans Bethe Scientist
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I thought that I might become a mathematician, but it... mathematics was too dry for me, there was too... not enough connection with the real world. And on the other hand I also thought of becoming a chemist but that was no use because in the laboratory I was rather clumsy and put most of the chemical reactions on my lab coat, which was not very successful. So theoretical physics was the obvious thing for me to do, and there Doctor Meissner paid attention to me and encouraged me to go to Sommerfeld.

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: Karl Meissner, Arnold Sommerfeld

Duration: 1 minute

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008