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Robert Marshak's work on white dwarfs


Winning the Cressy-Morrison Prize
Hans Bethe Scientist
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I then figured out that indeed the carbon nitrogen cycle at the predicted temperatures for instance for Sirius would give the right rate of energy evolution. And I wrote a paper on this which was published in the Physical Review early in '39, and before that in '38 I had a very brilliant graduate student by name of Robert Marshak who told me 'You have made such a fine theory, why don't you compete for the Cressy-Morrison Prize of the New York Academy of Science?' So I sent it in there and told the Physical Review to hold the paper until they had decided about the prize. I got the prize, $500.00 which was very useful at the time, and then the paper was published in the Physical Review.

[Q] But before then you had talked about it at various places and the report... that is, one can see reports in the New York Times and things like that before then about you having solved the problem. And Henry Norris Russell is a person who is influential in this dissemination.

Indeed. That's the way it went. I was asked, I think early in the fall semester of Harvard University, to give a talk at Harvard to which Henry Norris Russell came from Princeton and he asked some quite searching questions and I thought maybe the great man really doesn't believe me. But the great man did believe me and then made propaganda for my... for my theory from then on. This was the fall of '38, and soon the New York Times got interested and I gave an interview which was printed in The Times, that is I think the interviewer, probably Mr Lawrence, printed it in the New York Times and so it became known pretty well long before it was published in the Physical Review.

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: New York Times, Physical Review, New York Academy of Sciences, A. Cressy Morrison Astronomical Prize, Harvard University, Princeton University, Robert Marshak, Henry Norris Russell

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008