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Haphazard Reality

Haphazard Reality: Half a Century of Science

H.B.G. Casimir
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 374
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  • Book Info
    Haphazard Reality
    Book Description:

    Casimir, himself a famous physician, studied and worked with three great physicists of the twentieth century: Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli and Paul Ehrenfest. In his autobiography, the brilliant theoretician lets the reader witness the revolution that led to quantum physics, whose influence on modern society turned out to be many times larger than the first atomic physicists could have imagined. Through his involvement in the technical-scientific and the business aspects of physics, through management positions at Philips Research Laboratory and as a member of the Board of Directors of Philips, Professor Casimir is the ideal person to place half a century of developments in physics within the context of important events in the world. With a Forward by Frans. W. Saris.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1197-6
    Subjects: Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. None)
    (pp. i-iv)
    Frans W. Saris
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  4. Preface to the Series
    (pp. ix-x)
    Albert Rees
  5. Author’s Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    This is a personal narrative, but I have tried to write about people I met and knowledge I gained rather than about myself. The story of my own life is of no particular interest: the career of a man who studied under exceptionally favorable circumstances and became a fairly competent physicist, who went into industry and became a moderately satisfactory research manager, and who finally, after retirement, became the somewhat superficial and easygoing amateur historian and philosopher who wrote this book, is hardly an exciting subject for a biographer. But it has been my good fortune to meet, and even...

  7. 1 Family Background and Schooldays
    (pp. 4-25)

    On 14 May 1864, Brugt Kasimier and Gepke Meersma were married at the town hall in Buitenpost, a village in the east of Friesland. The marriage certificate shows that the bridegroom was then thirty years of age and a farmhand by trade; his parents, Hendrik Brugts Kasimier and Grietje Oosterhof, were both deceased. His bride, a twenty-three-year-old housemaid, was the daughter of Hendrik Meersma and his wife Martje Miedema, carpenters, who had given their consent to the marriage and were present at the ceremony. The document contains the usual legal clauses and is signed by the bride and her parents,...

  8. 2 Development of Physics
    (pp. 26-56)

    My first chapter began with a description of the marriage of my grandfather in 1864; it ended with my entering Leiden University in 1926. In the present chapter I shall try to sketch the development of physics during roughly the same period. That is an ambitious undertaking. Heinrich Hertz, the discoverer of radio waves, once said about a lecture he had given to a general audience that it had been trivial to the experts, incomprehensible to the layman, and disgusting to himself. I am afraid that the first two points of such criticism could also be raised against this chapter—...

  9. 3 Early Years at Leiden
    (pp. 57-87)

    “But you were going to be an architect!” Those were Ehrenfest’s first words when I went to see him shortly after my final school examination. Since I have no gift for drawing and since my ability to visualize and remember complex structures in space is only average, this was a surprising remark. But, as I told already, Ehrenfest had from time to time visited our home and he had been struck by the concentration with which I built towers and castles with wooden blocks. And since it was one of his tenets that talents manifest themselves early in life, I...

  10. 4 Copenhagen
    (pp. 88-126)

    April 1929 was the beginning of a new phase in my studies. It was then that Bohr¹ organized the first of what was to become a famous series of conferences. Ehrenfest was of course invited, and he proposed to Bohr that I should accompany him. For me it was a great adventure and I remember many details. Today you fly from Amsterdam to Copenhagen in little more than an hour; in 1929 you could get there in less than twenty-four hours if you took an overnight train; but we traveled even more leisurely.

    We first took the day train to...

  11. 5 Berlin, Zürich, and Back to Leiden
    (pp. 127-157)

    After getting my doctor’s degree—on 3 November 1931—I stayed at Leiden as Ehrenfest’s assistant. It was not a very productive period in my life as a physicist. Things were happening in solid-state physics, but I followed them with no more than a lukewarm interest. I did not see a problem I wanted to tackle myself, and Ehrenfest, although dissatisfied with my lack of activity, could not really help me. In those days he himself needed help. I remember distinctly the evening of 23 February 1932. Wiersma had got his doctor’s degree that day, we had been celebrating and...

  12. 6 Low Temperatures
    (pp. 158-190)

    On 12 January 1807 a barge carrying gunpowder from the factory in Amsterdam to the armory in Delft made a stop in Leiden and was moored at the Rapenburg in the middle of the city, not far from the university. Somehow the cargo caught fire and the explosion and conflagration that followed destroyed more than five hundred houses, a sizable section of the city. It would take until the end of the century before the last remnants of the ruins were cleared away and replaced by a pleasant park, but, in the meantime, this drastic clearing project had provided room...

  13. 7 War Times
    (pp. 191-223)

    In the evening of 18 September 1944 the British Second Army reached Eindhoven and passed through. Two days earlier American paratroops had begun to clear the way and now an endless stream of tanks and guns and lorries rolled by. But, of course, this was not yet the end of the war; that was forcibly brought home to us the next evening when the Germans tried to break through the lines and opened their attack with a heavy air raid. A week later the tragic issue of the battle of Arnhem was to rob us of all hope that the...

  14. 8 Holst and the Philips Research Laboratory
    (pp. 224-254)

    When I joined the Philips Laboratory in 1942, it was still the only place in the Netherlands outside the universities where research in physics at an academic level was going on. How did it come into being? One must be careful not to ascribe the birth of any great organization exclusively to the efforts of one man. The times must be ripe, the general social and economic trends must be taken into account. Yet the course of events within the general socioeconomic framework does depend on the actions of a few outstanding people. In this sense it was Gilles Holst...

  15. 9 Industry and Science After the Second World War
    (pp. 255-293)

    I have explained why I do not want to write the history of the Philips Laboratory. Perhaps someday the work of Mr. Garrett (mentioned on page 347) will be taken up again, completed, and published. For the time being I can only refer readers who are interested in that history to publications in the scientific literature and to the Philips Technical Review,¹ which at an intermediate level surveys results of the laboratory. My aim in this chapter is a different one.

    Since the Second World War there has been enormous progress in our knowledge and understanding of nature. There has...

  16. 10 The Science-Technology Spiral
    (pp. 294-314)

    In later years I was often invited to speak on themes like science and technology, physics and industry, industrial and academic research, and so on. Sometimes such lectures were perfunctory and uninspired; no more than mediocre PR work. Sometimes—as, for instance, in my talk at the First General Conference of the European Physical Society in Florence in 1969—I would speak briefly and somewhat flippantly about the general issues and then proceed to treat in detail some scientific and technical problems. And, now and then, I spoke with real conviction, especially when I was facing an audience that I...

  17. APPENDIX A The Discussions Between Bohr and Einstein on the Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
    (pp. 315-318)
  18. APPENDIX B Physics Around 1930
    (pp. 319-328)
  19. APPENDIX C Low-temperature Physics in the Thirties
    (pp. 329-342)
  20. Bibliographical Notes
    (pp. 343-348)
  21. Index
    (pp. 349-356)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 357-358)