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A paper with Arthur Compton on cosmic radiation


My interest in the limits of quantum electrodynamics
Hans Bethe Scientist
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[Q] That begins your interest in the limits of quantum electrodynamics?

It does indeed. In this paper, with Heitler, we tried to compare the theory with high energy electrons, and the only high energy electron which were... which were available were from cosmic rays and we predicted that cosmic ray electrons would lose a lot of their energy by going through rather small amounts of matters, maybe a... a centimeter of lead would do it, slow them down definitely. But experiments showed that wasn't the case. Well, in this connection I was approached, still in England at a conference in London, I was approached by Arthur Compton, who was one of the two leading cosmic ray physicists, the other being Millikan, and the two had a constant feud.

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: Arthur Compton, Robert Millikan, Walter Heitler

Duration: 1 minute, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008