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My ideas in wave diffraction theory


The courses I took at Munich
Hans Bethe Scientist
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I took the normal courses in advanced experimental physics with Kirchner, and especially theoretical physics with Sommerfeld. Sommerfeld had a six term course covering all parts of theoretical physics. I think I took Mechanics from him, and Fluid Mechanics and Electromagnetism and Optics and Differential Equations of Physics. The last was his favourite subject and that of course tied in exactly with Schrödinger's wave mechanics. It prepared me for using wave mechanics with facility. So... and Sommerfeld was a very good mathematician. He insisted on rigorous mathematics, so he was a very good teacher, and perhaps the best was his seminar which I mentioned where we discussed Schrödinger's papers. He insisted on everybody being very clear, and when necessary Sommerfeld would ask stupid questions to show... to find out from the lecturer what was unclear.

[Q] And your duties as a student in the seminar?

Well, at... in the beginning I didn't have any duties, but then in my second year I was asked to correct the exercises of the younger students, so I... marked them all and corrected the mistakes and one of my students then was Rudi Peierls who later on became a famous physicist and my good friend.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Fritz Kirchner, Arnold Sommerfeld, Erwin Schrödinger, Rudi Peierls

Duration: 2 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008