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Quantum Profiles

Quantum Profiles

Jeremy Bernstein
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Quantum Profiles
    Book Description:

    For the prominent science writer Jeremy Bernstein, the profile is the most congenial way of communicating science. Here, in what he labels a "series of conversations carried on in the reader's behalf and my own," he evokes the tremendous intellectual excitement of the world of modern physics, especially the quantum revolution. Drawing on his well-known talent for explaining the most complex scientific ideas for the layperson, Bernstein gives us a lively sense of what the issues of quantum mechanics are and of various ways in which individual physicists approached them.

    The author begins this series of interconnected profiles by describing the life and work of John Stewart Bell, the brilliant physicist employed at the gigantic elementary particle laboratory near Geneva (CERN), whose "Bell's Inequality" inspired a generation of researchers to confront, by experiment, just how peculiar and counterintuitional quantum mechanics really is. Bernstein then discusses the career of the prodigiously active and creative John Archibald Wheeler, who worked in the beginning stages of almost every branch of contemporary physics and invented the terms "black hole," "ergo-sphere," "geon," "Planck length," and "stellarator." The book closes with a moving commentary on the correspondence, of fifty-two years duration, between Einstein and the gentle, talented, but little-known Swiss engineer Michele Angelo Besso. "Of all the Einstein letters I have read these are surely the most striking, on a purely human level," writes Bernstein of the Einstein-Besso correspondence. "Einstein was not given to close friendships--`the merely personal,' as he once put it--but these letters are filled with `the merely personal,' even though the deep issues of physics and its philosophy are never very far away."

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2054-2
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. John Stewart Bell: QUANTUM ENGINEER
    (pp. 3-89)

    In 1902 the Olympia Academy was founded in Bern, Switzerland. It had three members: Maurice Solovine, Conrad Habicht, and Albert Einstein. Solovine, a young student, had answered a newspaper advertisement offering private tutoring in physics by Einstein for three Swiss francs an hour, while Habicht, who was studying mathematics with the idea of becoming a secondary school teacher, already knew Einstein. The three young men had regular evening “Academy” meetings over the next three years, at which they studied philosophy and discussed physics. Solovine, who was Romanian, recalled having eaten caviar in his parents’ home in Romania, and on one...

  5. Epilogue
    (pp. 90-92)

    My visit to the LEP with John and Mary Bell took place in January 1989. The machine was officially scheduled to be turned on on Bastille Day the following summer. Bastille Day had been chosen as a gesture to the French, who had donated much of the land. As it turned out, because of objections by Mrs. Thatcher (Britain had contributed a share of the money), the official opening took place a little later.

    The machine worked perfectly and continues to do so. The experimental groups, whose building-sized detectors we had visited, began taking data soon afterward and by the...

  6. John Wheeler: RETARDED LEARNER
    (pp. 93-134)

    In the fall of 1983 I audited one of the most remarkable and idiosyncratic physics courses I have ever encountered. It was called Foundation Problems of Physics and was open to graduate students only, so a solid background in advanced physics was assumed. It was taught by John Archibald Wheeler, then (like me) an I. I. Rabi Visiting Professor at Columbia University. (At the time, Rabi was still alive, and Wheeler and I were able to tell him how much we enjoyed occupying his “chair.”)

    Wheeler was then seventy, but extremely active. He was the full-time director of the Center...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 135-142)

    The principal conversations with Wheeler on which this account is based took place in the spring of 1985 in Austin, Texas. At the time, Wheeler, who was then seventy-four, told me that he had given the university administration a firm date for his retirement from the University of Texas, but that he had not yet made it public. He had in fact decided to retire the following year. As it happened, that year Wheeler had a triple bypass operation and then moved back to Princeton. Not knowing how his life had been affected by all of this, I was a...

  8. Besso
    (pp. 143-166)

    Like most physicists of my generation, I first encountered Einstein’s 1905 paper on the special theory of relativity—“Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper” (“On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”)—in an English translation published by Dover in 1952. The title of the Dover book was “The Principle of Relativity.” It was a translation of a 1913 German reprint of the early relativity papers, and it also included Einstein’s paper on the general theory of relativity, published in 1916. In 1952, I was a graduate student at Harvard, and although I was nominally in the Mathematics Department my real interest was in...

  9. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 167-168)
  10. Index
    (pp. 169-178)