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Posts Tagged "history of physics"

The Curious Wavefunction

It’s the end of fundamental physics. Again.

After Isaac Newton's discoveries of the laws of gravitation and motion, nothing comparable came out of science for more than a hundred years (Image: Wikipedia)

Fellow Scientific American blogger John Horgan is at it again. This time he is heralding the end of fundamental physics based on the increasing time lag between Nobel Prizes awarded for fundamental discoveries. There’s actually a grain of truth in his analysis; for instance the prizes awarded for quantum mechanics in rapid succession in the [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Surprises in physics: From black bodies to the accelerating universe

Max Planck's revolutionary that energy in the subatomic world exists as discrete packets marked the beginning of a century of spectacular surprises in physics (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

Surprises rank high on the list of things that make science a source of everlasting delight. When it comes to being surprised scientists are no different from the general public. Just like children on their birthdays being surprised by unexpected gifts, scientists revel in the surprises that nature whips up in front of them. Surprises [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Why the world needs more Leo Szilards

Leo Szilard (1898-1962) Image: Wikipedia Commons

The body of men and women who built the atomic bomb was vast, diverse, talented and multitudinous. Every conceivable kind of professional – from theoretical physics to plumber – worked on the Manhattan Project for three years over an enterprise that spread across the country and equaled the US automobile industry in its marshaling of [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

“The Perfect Theory”: The story of general relativity, and what makes something a science

Until the development of radio astronomy - exemplified here by the Very Large Array telescope in New mexico - general relativity was considered more speculation than fact (Image: NRAO)

Pedro Ferreira’s book “The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity” essentially tells us what other people did with Einstein’s general theory of relativity after he developed it. While one chapter is devoted to Einstein’s hard struggle with learning the non-Riemannian geometry and building the field equations that define the [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

The many tragedies of Edward Teller

Edward Teller (January 15, 1908 - September 9, 2003)

Edward Teller was born on this day 106 years ago. Teller is best known to the general public for two things: his reputation as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” and as a key villain in the story of the downfall of Robert Oppenheimer. To me Teller will always be a prime example of the [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Book review: “Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe” by Silvan Schweber

Hans Bethe was one of the greatest and most versatile scientists of the twentieth century. The sheer magnitude of his scientific accomplishments ranging across almost every field of theoretical physics almost defies belief; he was probably the last “universalist”, a man who could solve virtually any physics problem that came his way. The sum total [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Five mysteries that (should) keep physicists awake at night

Consciousness challenges the fundamental principles of physics like few other phenomena (Image: Costa Rican Times)

Scientific American editor Clara Moskowitz has a nice post showcasing some of the big questions asked by participants at a recent particle physics conference. These are the kinds of questions that make scientists worry and keep the midnight oil burning at institutes and labs around the world. As relevant as the questions were they all [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Are physicists individualists or collectivists?

Richard Feynman was probably one of the very few true individualists in the history of physics (Image: Telegraph)

Ricardo Heras has a well-written and thought provoking essay in Physics Today in which he asks whether physicists should be individualists or collectivists. He draws from the history of science and largely concludes that individualism is necessary for bold, creative ideas. In response Chad Orzel points out that many of the individualistic physicists that Ricardo [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Ernest Rutherford, master of simplicity

Ernest Rutherford, emperor of the atomic domain (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

It’s Ernest Rutherford’s birthday today. Along with Michael Faraday, Rutherford was the greatest experimentalist in modern history and the twentieth century’s experimental counterpart to Einstein. Rutherford stands out because he defies the traditional notion of genius. He was a gruff, plain spoken man with a booming voice who came from simple farming roots. He had [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Theorists, experimentalists and the bias in popular physics

Most people with more than a passing interest in physics will tell you who came up with the idea of quarks – Murray Gell-Mann. Now gather around the same crowd which knows about Gell-Mann and ask them who Henry Kendall, Jerome Friedman and Richard Taylor are. It’s very likely that you will draw mostly blank [...]

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