Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Maverick Mathematician

Maverick Mathematician: The Life and Science of J.E. Moyal

Ann Moyal
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Maverick Mathematician
    Book Description:

    J.E. Moyal has been pronounced 'one of Australia's most remarkable thinkers'. Yet, he was, essentially, a scientific maverick. Educated in a modest high school in Tel Aviv, he took himself to France to train as an engineer, statistician and mathematician and escaped to England as France fell. It was from outside academia that he entered into communication with the 'high priest' of British theoretical physics, P.A.M. Dirac, challenging him with the idea of a statistical basis of quantum mechanics. Their correspondence forms the core of this book and opens up an important and hitherto unknown chapter for physicists, mathematicians and historians of science. Moyal's classic paper, 'A statistical basis for quantum mechanics', also reproduced here in full, has come to underlie an explosion of research and to underpin an array of major technological developments. Joe Moyal emerges in this small biography as a witty and intrepid character, a scuba diver and wine connoisseur, a generous teacher and researcher, and a man whose academic life-spanning France, Ireland, Britain, the USA and Australia-intersected with some of the leading scientists of the 20th century.

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-59-5
    Subjects: History, Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1. Boyhood
    (pp. 1-8)

    José Enriques Moyal was born in Jerusalem on 1 October, 1910, on the eastern side of Jerusalem (a point of precision of some significance later) to his mother, Claire Calmé, a French schoolteacher brought to Palestine by her parent, an Inspector of Schools, and David Moyal, his lawyer father. David Moyal belonged to an upper-middle class family of Sephardic Jews (the prominent Sephardic Savon family) whose forebears, following the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492, dispersed into parts of the Ottoman Empire — in their case Palestine — and in ensuing years came to fill professional places as lawyers, judges,...

  6. Chapter 2. The Making of a Scientific Maverick
    (pp. 9-18)

    From the British Protectorate of Palestine, Joe Moyal took the Higher School Certificate examination, part of the British matriculation system, and, gaining distinctions in his results, enrolled at Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1927. Coming from a modest school in Tel Aviv, he had little knowledge of the academic world and no mentors to guide him in his search. Yet, by 1927, he had made the independent choice of a scientific career. He would study mathematics. He was, however, soon confronted by an unanticipated barrier — the cost, without a scholarship, of education at Cambridge. Realizing that he must make his...

  7. Chapter 3. Battle With a Legend
    (pp. 19-44)

    At the De Havilland Aircraft Company, Joe was placed in the Vibrations Department under its Director, R.N. Hadwin, and for the following five years his wartime research centred on electronic instrumentation and different continuous systems and their electrical analogues. In this, his investigation of the mathematical character of complex systems, including air-screw engine combinations, vibration, propeller flutter, and mechanical impedance functions in continuous systems, yielded apparatus and methods of measurement which were then designed and developed by Departmental staff. It was sustained and demanding research that also involved lengthy experimentation and his presence on test flights to check the delicate...

  8. Chapter 4. The Widening Circle
    (pp. 45-60)

    With the war’s end, Joe Moyal was poised to enter another life. His reputation at De Havilland’s had continued to rise and he was offered the job of developing a guidance system for the ‘Black Knight’ missile which would combine a mixture of the electronic and electrical engineering which, as he put it, he had ‘exploited during the war’. But he had had enough of the technology of warfare. ‘I was sick of war and research on war’, he reflected later, and he was anxious to make revisions and headway on his quantum paper and extend his research in mathematics,...

  9. Chapter 5. Antipodean Winds
    (pp. 61-78)

    What made Joe Moyal decide to move from such an illustrious Department of Mathematics, brimming with intellectual challenge, at Manchester University and move across the world to a young national university rising slowly in Australia’s `bush capital’?

    Personal choice lies at the heart of a life in science. Frequently, this is dominated by the social context of science and its disciplines, the imperative to choose a track and remain with it; to adhere to collaborative team work; or to remain in a secure and congenial setting with the reward system of promotion and scientific accolades in sight. Alternatively there may...

  10. Chapter 6. Argonne National Laboratory
    (pp. 79-90)

    Argonne National Laboratory, with its deceptive old-world name, had grown out of the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Engineering Project, based at the University of Chicago in World War II. There, the immigrant Italian physicist, Enrico Fermi, had directed the first successful, controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in 1942, a scientific breakthrough that had led to the construction of nuclear reactors producing plutonium and the whole new development of nuclear and atomic research. With the war’s end and the establishment of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1946, the Government chose Argonne to become its principal national laboratory for long-term...

  11. Chapter 7. Macquarie University
    (pp. 91-102)

    Joe Moyal was 62 when he decided to throw his hat back into the academic ring in Australia — not an ideal age for a new appointment. Ironically, one or two of his former Ph.D. students now held Professorships in the country and other Professorships coming on stream at Sydney, Melbourne and Monash Universities went to younger men. Yet, in a surprising stroke of coincidence and good fortune, he found himself in contact with the renowned British theoretical and particle physicist, John Clive Ward, who, four years earlier, had taken up his post as the Foundation Professor of Theoretical Physics...

  12. Chapter 8. The Reflective Years
    (pp. 103-118)

    What is the measure of a scientist’s life? Some would say the accolades, the recognition of scientific peers, and the adoption and use made of his original work. Joe Moyal published only 36 papers, a small total in relative terms, but most were fundamental works.

    It is possible to follow their reception through the cited references of the `Web of Science’. `The general theory of stochastic population processes’, of 1962, follows a high rising curve, as does `Theory of ionization fluctuations’, of 1955, and his last major research paper, `Particle populations and number operators in quantum theory’, of 1972. But...

  13. Appendix I. Publications of J.E. Moyal
    (pp. 119-122)
  14. Appendix II. P.A.M. Dirac – J. E. Moyal: Correspondence, 1944-1946. Basser Library, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, MS 45/3/
    (pp. 123-162)
  15. Appendix III. Quantum Mechanics as a Statistical Theory by J.E. Moyal
    (pp. 163-190)
  16. Index
    (pp. 191-194)