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The Bethe-Heitler Formula


A paper with Arthur Compton on cosmic radiation
Hans Bethe Scientist
Comments (1) Please sign in or register to add comments
Sunday, 05 October 2014 12:06 PM
Awesome story.

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. So Compton said 'You have proved that electrons should lose lots of energy in matter, in the atmosphere for instance. How could electrons get down to earth so easily? It must be something else. Cosmic radiation cannot be electrons and it cannot be gamma rays, because gamma rays would immediately make electrons. So,' suggested Compton, 'probably they are protons.' And I said 'Yes, probably they are protons.' And Compton went on to say 'Well, there is a phenomenon observed on cosmic radiation, namely that they are deflected in the earth's magnetic field,' I think to the east, I'm not sure, it could be to the west, 'and that indicates that they are positively charged and are... and therefore they ought to be protons.' So I think that was an important step by Compton, and we have a joint paper on... on that subject. Later on it turned out that many of the particles we see in the cloud chamber at sea level are neither protons nor electrons, but are mesons - but that's a different story, but I got interested in mesons very much.

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

Duration: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008