Nuclear Forces

Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe

Silvan S. Schweber
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 518
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  • Book Info
    Nuclear Forces
    Book Description:

    What drove Nobel-winning physicist Hans Bethe, head of Theoretical Physics at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, to later renounce the weaponry he had worked so tirelessly to create? That is one of the questions answered by Nuclear Forces, a riveting biography of Bethe’s early life and development as both a scientist and a man of principle.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06553-6
    Subjects: History, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    In her review of Charles Thorpe’s 2006 biography of Robert Oppenheimer, the distinguished scholar Sheila Jasanoff recalled that on a cool day in the fall of 1995, after having had lunch at the Terrace Café in Cornell University’s Statler Hall, she went to retrieve her trench coat before returning to her office. Her coat was not where she had left it, but hanging nearby she found a similar-looking one and inferred that someone had taken hers by mistake. The mystery was solved when Hans Bethe, “the eminent theoretical physicist, then close to ninety in age, came shambling into the cloak...

  4. 1 Growing Up
    (pp. 24-69)

    This chapter recounts Hans Bethe’s childhood, until he entered university. It tells of his parents, of his home, of his Gymnasium experiences, and of his bout of tuberculosis. I have devoted a great deal of attention to the role played by his father, Albrecht Bethe, for a number of reasons. Albrecht was deeply committed to Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Hans grew up in an environment where describing how things came to be was a natural form of explanation and understanding. His first exposure to doing science was through an introduction to the extraordinary variety and complexity of living entities,...

  5. 2 Maturing
    (pp. 70-93)

    This chapter describes Hans’s social and intellectual world while attending Frankfurt University. Although in his interviews with Thomas Kuhn and Charles Weiner Bethe minimized the value of his studies at Frankfurt and emphasized that he “came alive” in Sommerfeld’s seminar in Munich, a careful examination of his stay in Frankfurt disagrees with his assessment. The chapter also introduces the social circle of the teenage Hans, the Tanzstunde, which played an important role in his emotional maturation. In addition I discuss the “Jewishness” of Hans’s friends, and that of his cohort in theoretical physics, and their place in the broader history...

  6. 3 Becoming Bethe
    (pp. 94-153)

    Hans’s father played a significant role in shaping the young Hans’s character and his scientific outlook, but it was Arnold Sommerfeld who first molded him as a theoretical physicist. In telling the story of Hans’s studies with Sommerfeld, I make use of the concept of images of scientific knowledge and body of scientific knowledge introduced by Yehuda Elkana.¹ Images and content of knowledge constitute a schematic, malleable distinction that focuses on two interconnected aspects of scientific knowledge. The body of scientific knowledge includes those components directly related to the subject matter of any given scientific discipline. In physics, this is...

  7. 4 Beyond the Doctorate: 1928–1933
    (pp. 154-236)

    Among Bethe’s many strong points, three have been decisive in his growth as an outstanding physicist. The first was his ability to recognize his strengths and his limitations. From early on he was very much aware that he was not creative in the way Heisenberg, Dirac, or Schrödinger were. He was not able to formulate radically new ideas, but, on the basis of foundational approaches of others, he could critically analyze and extend theories and formulate generative idealizations and models that would test their validity. The criteria that determined the validity of a theory always had an empirical component. Certainly...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 England, 1933–1935
    (pp. 237-265)

    The warm relationship between William Lawrence Bragg and Sommerfeld that made possible Bethe’s invitation to Manchester was of long standing. It dated back to the 1910s, following the discovery of X-ray diffraction at Sommerfeld’s institute, and the Braggs’ subsequent research activities in the field.

    William Lawrence was born in Adelaide, Australia, in 1890. His father, William Henry Bragg, was the professor of physics at the decade-old University of Adelaide. In 1895, shortly after the discovery of X-rays by Röntgen, William Henry began to investigate the properties of γ-and X-rays. He received worldwide recognition for his research. The extensive correspondence between...

  10. 6 Hilde Levi
    (pp. 266-282)

    In the midst of Bethe’s professional accomplishments, a personal crisis intruded, one that threatened to disrupt his friendships and his work. Its resolution had enduring consequences: it deeply affected the other person involved, adversely reflected on Bethe in his disciplinary circles, and had professional repercussions. Thus during the 1930s, although Bethe became one of the leading nuclear theorists, he was never invited to the annual conferences hosted by Bohr’s institute in Copenhagen, the preeminent international center for theoretical nuclear physics. Nor did he ever visit the institute after coming to the United States in 1935, although he went to Europe...

  11. 7 Cornell University
    (pp. 283-314)

    Cornell University owes its existence to the unlikely association of two men of very different background: Ezra Cornell (1807–1874), a reticent, self-made man of humble background, a Quaker and tough-minded idealist; and Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918), a voluble, urbane, highly educated scion of a wealthy patrician family. Ezra Cornell was a successful inventor-industrialist in the emergent field of telegraphy who made his fortune by being the largest stockholder in the Western Union Company.¹ Carl Becker, in his lectures on the founding of Cornell University, offered a portrait of both these men. He depicted Ezra Cornell as “large, slow...

  12. 8 The Happy Thirties
    (pp. 315-360)

    In the spring of 1976, Roger Stuewer, an eminent historian of physics at the University of Minnesota, in discussions with his colleagues, formulated the idea of holding a symposium “to chart key developments in the history of nuclear physics, principally in the 1930s, by inviting eight distinguished nuclear physicists to lecture on and discuss these developments.”¹ These lectures were to be based on their personal knowledge and experiences, and to include, if possible, information from their personal correspondence or other published materials. With funding from the University of Minnesota the conference was held May 18–21, 1977. The speakers included...

  13. 9 Rose Ewald Bethe
    (pp. 361-385)

    Rose Ewald is the woman Hans Bethe loved all his adult life. She raised their children, and was the guardian of his home life and the person greatly responsible for his moral growth and stature in the face of his ever deeper involvement in weaponry and politics.

    Rose was born on March 20, 1917, in Munich and was baptized shortly thereafter. Her father, Paul Peter Ewald, was then in the German army in charge of an X-ray unit in the rear of the eastern front. As noted earlier, her father had been one of Sommerfeld’s first Doktoranden, and after having...

  14. Conclusion: Past and Future
    (pp. 386-398)

    Hans Bethe was an unusually gifted individual. In visualizing the past for this biography, I explored his roots, his family, his friendships, his emotional maturation, and his development as a theoretical physicist. I have highlighted the differences between the physics communities he was associated with in the 1920s and 1930s—Frankfurt University, Sommerfeld’s seminar in Munich, Ewald’s institute in Stuttgart, the Cavendish, Fermi’s institute, Bragg’s department in Manchester, and Cornell’s physics department—and indicated how these differing contexts were reflected in the physics produced in them, in Bethe’s persona, in his presentation of self, and in his physics, and how...

  15. Appendixes
    • APPENDIX A The Bethe Family Genealogy
      (pp. 400-401)
    • APPENDIX B Courses Taken at Frankfurt University
      (pp. 402-403)
    • APPENDIX C A Brief History of the Genesis of Quantum Mechanics
      (pp. 404-418)
    • APPENDIX D Courses Taken at Munich University
      (pp. 419-420)
    • APPENDIX E Bethe’s Doctoral Thesis
      (pp. 421-427)
    • APPENDIX F The Habilitationsschrift Defense
      (pp. 428-430)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 431-512)
  17. References
    (pp. 513-550)
  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 551-554)
  19. Index
    (pp. 555-579)